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Harmony Healthcare Center's memory garden

Tue, Apr 19th, 2011
Posted in Agriculture

Pictured above is Harmony Garden Club Member Muriel Gunderson planting a hosta. Photo provided by Alan Bahler

When the Harmony Healthcare Resident Council met and voted to create a space where residents could enjoy a visit with family and friends, the project started as a garden plan and quickly became a community project. Hired to coordinate the efforts of volunteers and labor to get the garden planted by the end of the summer, it seemed an impossible goal.

The garden in the back of the Harmony Healthcare Center had been planted and lovingly maintained by a group of committed hospital units for 17 years, until it was no longer possible for the diminishing numbers to put in the time and labor required. Perennial flowers had all but disappeared with time and the shrubs had become overgrown and unsightly. The first step was to clear the area and start anew.

Wayne Herman and Phil Burkholder volunteered to organize the Harmony Lion's Club workers, and with their help and Bob Trouten's expertise on running a bobcat, the existing shrubs." were removed. Kinglsey Mercantile generously donated the use of equipment to help with the project as well. After clearing the grounds, it was time to block out the pathway in order for cement to be poured. On paper, a design drawn up by the Treehouse looked lovely, a pleasing walkway or wheelchair path curving through an assortment of flowering shrubs, a maple tree, and perennial flowers. In reality, an empty space stared back, no blueprint on the ground, but only possible dimensions to measure and translate. People pushing wheelchairs were envisioned and the space it might require. After jockeying back and forth with space requirements, an area was blocked and dug out by Lion's Club members who faithfully showed up numerous times to provide labor with their good humor.

In the meantime, an idea was forming for a theme for this special garden. The Care Center had been putting into place a transformation called the Culture Change, asking residents to make more choices to form their living space in this chapter in their lives.

Memories of my grandmother's garden, my mother's garden and pictures of my daughter sitting among the wild daisies in our front lawn intermingled, to suggest asking residents of their favorite flowers in childhood or home gardens.

A community circle was formed and residents' garden favorites and memories were shared. Mavis Fossum mentioned lilac bushes, a neighbor's forsythia and crabapple trees as memorable. Onie Bigalk remembered red roses and red tulips from her past. Bernadine Redalen talked about her grandparents' peonies, and a big washtub planted "plum full of everything." Bertha Smedsrud also recalled peonies in a garden patch. Darlene Kingsbury talked about lilacs and black-eyed Susans. As this generation's wishes were told with bright eyes and faces lined with a lifetime of living, red roses, pink peonies, red tulips and lilacs often appeared as fond memories of gardens past. It was clear after the discussion, old favorites redefined as new hybrids with smaller dimensions, more disease resistance and longer flowering periods needed to be added to the dwarf shrubs and perennials in the plan. Back to the drawing board with the Treehouse substituting residents' wishes for their garden.

Now it was time to communicate this plan to the community in order to gain their support. Armed with displays of large photos of the maple tree, shrubs and flowers and the garden design colored in spring, summer and fall blooms, friends and family members were asked if they wished to donate a particular plant in the garden in memory of or honor of someone they loved. Memories in my family were shared at the volunteer luncheon and mother-child tea, such as the story of the rose called Heritage planted in the garden and jokingly dubbed Helen Heritage after my mother. Another story related how our daughter's fond memory of pictures of the wild daisy patch in our lawn and daisy chains as a child inspired her to have daisies as a theme for her wedding.

Everyone was literally unprepared for the overwhelming response from the community. People came up to staff at these events or out in the community and asked to purchase a plant as a fond memory or in honor of someone they cared about. In addition, The Harmony Brownies and Girl Scouts purchased the Autumn Blaze Maple Tree, a Pink Spirea Crabapple Tree, the PJM Rhododendron, an Endless Summer Hydrangea, and some of the perennials, Veda Elston purchased plants in honor of 29 years of service as a nurse at the Healthcare Center, and Franz and Diana Sattler purchased perennials in honor of 40 years as a dentist in Harmony. Others donated plants from their own gardens, like Alta Bates, who gave hostas.

In the meantime, the rains came, a June wetter than any other, breaking records and washing out dates for cementing the walkways and a host of other projects to be completed before any planting could commence. Eventually, the rain let up enough for all the projects to be completed and the walkways were poured.

Finally, the day everyone had been anticipating arrived. A crew from the Treehouse arrived; they set to work and by afternoon the Memory Garden was a reality. Walking the pathways, the red double knockout roses were truly a knockout and yellow black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, white daisies, and soft blue Russian Sages stood at attention, as though saying, "Look at me," which of course everyone did with a few oh's and ah's. Three of the rose varieties named Lena, Sven, and Ole, loaded onto the truck by mistake, appeared to have been planted for a reason, perhaps one of their jokes, coming to rest in the garden of a largely Norwegian Care Center.

On a day soon after, the Lion's Club and Greenfield Lutheran Youth met to shovel wood chips around the plants. The finishing touches were added when the same groups along with Harmony Garden Club members and Jane Samuelson planted donated perennials from community members' gardens. The Harmony Lion's Club was especially instrumental in the completion of this garden project. They were on site every step of the way, providing many hours of labor, insights into implementing the project and funding for it.

Visitors and residents wandered out to the finished garden last summer, already pleased to see blooming plants adding beauty to the back of the Care Center, although it will take three years for the shrubs and perennials to reach their full growth and longer yet for the maple tree.

Soon the first blush of pink will color the crabapple trees, the PJM Rhododendrons will burst out with lovely purple blooms, and the cycle of the garden will begin again.

A placard with calligraphied names of those the plants were purchased in honor or memory of will be placed in a special place inside. Plans are to eventually place wheelchair-accessible swings, tables and chairs at the resting spots in the garden, and the dream is to place a gazebo on the edge of the garden, where a wobbly structure now exists. Donations are still welcome to complete these projects.

The garden is now a spot for the residents to sit and enjoy the flowers and foliage, to visit with friends and family, perhaps share a memory or two of their favorite gardens or a snack. It will hopefully be therapeutic, a place to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of a summer day, a site that gladdens the soul and lightens the spirit.

One can just see a sign in the garden that might read, "The Memory Garden, May all who enter find peace and joy here."

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