On a July morning so hot that merely sitting in the shade engendered rivulets of perspiration, half a dozen gardeners gathered at the Senior Center in Charlottesville. Ranging in age from 62 to 80, they are part of a group that meets every Friday to tend roses — roses with evocative, far-away names like Marmalade Skies, Abraham Darby, Meditation and Brigadoon. From hybrid teas to floribundas, varieties abound, in colors from creamy white to crimson.
This rose garden is a cooperative project between Piedmont Master Gardeners and the Senior Center. It’s a demonstration garden, and Master Gardeners work with center members and others in the community to maintain it from March through November for teaching all aspects of rose care.
As outreach agents of the state’s Cooperative Extension, Piedmont Master Gardeners bring horticultural science from Virginia’s land-grant universities to gardeners of all ages to benefit the community in multiple ways — one of which is contributing to physical and emotional health.
Rose Sgarlat Myers is project coordinator for the rose garden. On this Friday, she’s joined by Lorraine Wyant, Todd Cone, Pat Huber-Fisher, Nancy Moore, Deanie Rucker and Sue Erickson. These educators and enthusiasts chime in on some of the reasons they love to garden: keeping beautiful flowers beautiful; enhancing the environment with ornamentals and vegetables; enjoying the company of others; savoring the sense of accomplishment; keeping fit through moving and bending; contributing to a better quality of life.
While some gardeners specialize, most do it all, working with a range of botanicals and planting from seeds, seedlings, grafts or bulbs. And though it can be as physically demanding as you want it to be — digging, planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing, deadheading, pruning, winterizing — there is a role for everyone. One of the rose gardeners comes with her Seeing Eye dog and helps. Raised beds can accommodate people in wheelchairs.
And all ages are welcome, although the responses are mixed when the question of offspring’s interest comes up. Huber-Fisher has been helping with the roses for 14 years. “Oh,” she remarked when asked whether or not her kids inherited the gardening gene, “their favorite sport is weeding.”
For Moore, gardening is therapeutic — something health researchers also have discovered. Physical as well as visual access to nature helps people recover more quickly from illness, reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. Studies have shown that horticultural therapy and garden settings also can reduce pain and the need for medications.
Rucker appreciates the purpose it gives her. In season, she starts each day with a cup of coffee and a trip to her garden. During the dormancy of winter, she plans what she’ll plant in the spring. Gardening can lead to other interests. Rucker’s daughter, for instance, now expresses her interest in gardening through art, with lush blossoms painted in pastels.
Everyone in the group finds gardening intellectually stimulating. “You’re always learning and trying new things,” Rucker noted, as others nodded in agreement and someone mentioned the continuing education classes offered through the Master Gardeners and other organizations. The lifelong learning component is a big draw.
“My mom liked to garden,” recalled Clarice Edson. “We lived in the city, but our whole yard was flowers — gardenias, azaleas, camellias.” Though not the least bit interested when she was growing up, Edson has been cultivating a garden of her own for 40 years, ever since she and her husband bought their home in Albemarle County. They grow flowers, as well as fruits and vegetables — cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, yellow squash, okra, snap beans, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, raspberries, sweet potatoes, iris, zinnias.
And to think it all started with grass.
“When we first moved there, the grass was horrible,” Edson said. “We got a quote from some company, but it seemed like a fortune, so we decided to use the money and do it ourselves. We saw one of those magazine ads and ordered zoysia grass plugs.” Turns out zoysia is slow growing. The Edsons are still waiting for it to fill in completely, although the back yard is pretty fabulous, according to their granddaughter’s friends.
“When a teenager notices grass, that’s really remarkable,” Edson laughed.
What about gardening appeals to her?
“I like the peace and quiet. I kind of go off in my own world as I crawl around in the dirt. And I like seeing the results — I feel good when I work on something and see the results.”
The garden is also a way to remember her mother. “When I go in the garden, I really think about her. I think about her more there than anywhere else,” she said.