A Garden to Remember

A Garden to Remember

On rainy days, when going out to the garden isn't an option, residents of the Springhouse Senior Living Community gather in the common area to watch E. Marbury Jacobs present a garden-themed talk. On this day, Jacobs brought up Victory Gardens, and a resident's eyes lit up. "She exclaimed how she had just remembered that her family had a victory garden when she was little," says Jacobs. "It really reinforced why I wanted to be there…to help them recall some of their more cherished memories about food, shared knowledge and traditions."

Now entering her second year in Friedman's Agriculture, Food, and Environment program, as well as concurrently pursuing a Masters in Public Heath, Marbury Jacobs was recently named a 2016 Schweitzer Fellow. This prestigious honor is awarded to graduate students across the country who are working to address health disparities and the social determinants of health. For her project, Jacobs chose to create a garden club for older adults.

Older woman gardeningA resident tends to the garden

Jacobs' work with an "aging in place" organization in Northern Virginia was the springboard for a budding interest in working with the population of people who are aging toward old age. The experiences of "Transporting them to the grocery store, to the doctor; seeing how their lack of mobility can be limiting to what they want to do, what they can do," made a big impact on Jacobs' sense of responsibility to her community. When it came time to plan her Schweitzer Fellowship endeavor, Jacobs knew that working with older adults would be her focus, and she knew she wanted to try gardening with them. "Thinking about logistics, I came to realize it would be best to work with a residence and build my project into their routine," she says. "I was lucky to find Springhouse."

When it came time to plan her Schweitzer Fellowship endeavor, Jacobs knew that working with older adults would be her focus, and she knew she wanted to try gardening with them.

Located near Faulkner Hospital on the far side of Jamaica Plain's Arnold Arboretum, Springhouse Senior Living Community is nestled in a quiet, wooded area. Jacobs has been visiting Springhouse since June of this year, helping residents from two different houses within the community tend to tomatoes, eggplant, basil, squash, and cucumbers growing in raised garden beds on the lawn. "They're higher than typical raised beds," says Jacobs. "They're the perfect height for residents in wheel chairs. Also, if people are tired they can sit on the edge. It’s pretty cool that Springhouse thought about that when they built them."

"Feeling, touching, and smelling are what i’m trying to focus on. Some of the residents aren’t that verbal, but I saw their eyes light up, watched them smile. Being outside in the sunlight, remembering something from their past."

Jacobs works primarily with the Assisted Living residents and the Allen House residents, the home for those with memory impairments. "Yesterday all of the Allen House residents came out to the garden and I was able to pass around the plants starts of swiss chard, collard greens, and beets. They got to feel the soil, see the roots, see the young plants,” Jacobs says. "Everyone loves the smell of basil, and they will hold the tomatoes in their hands and really feel them." This is important, she says, because the sensory stimulation really helps to trigger memories. "Feeling, touching, and smelling are what I’m trying to focus on. Some of the residents aren’t that verbal, but I saw their eyes light up, watched them smile. Being outside in the sunlight, remembering something from their past."

gardening manA resident enjoys time in the sun with freshly picked vegetables

Harvesting the vegetables is another important part of the program. On a typical day, Jacobs will meet a group of Assisted Living residents at the common area and head down to the garden. "The (Assisted Living) residents are really the ones doing the work; weeding, harvesting. I’m there as a facilitator," says Jacobs. "When we had our first set of tomatoes, even though they weren’t completely ripe, they just had to pick them." All of the produce picked in the garden is used in meal preparation for the residents, and seeing that connection, Jacobs says, is really rewarding for the people who live there. "We’ll be picking a vegetable and they'll start telling me about how they used to prepare it...they’re excited to have some one out there in garden with them, to give them a reason to come outside."

"We’ll be picking a vegetable and they'll start telling me about how they used to prepare it....They’re excited to have some one out there in garden with them, to give them a reason to come outside." 

As the gardening season comes to a close, Jacobs looks forward to scheduling a series of speakers, as well as planning cooking lessons for the residents. Ultimately, she plans to create a video resource for Springhouse to use as a tool to help continue the program beyond her fellowship end date of April 2017. "Right now I’m taking pictures of the garden, residents in the garden…all aspects of them being in the garden," says Jacobs. "I’m also going to be doing interviews and asking them questions about the club and their experiences gardening, their cooking traditions." Her hope is that the video will serve as a document of how the program helped improve the social, mental, and physical well being of the residents, and a testament to the importance of simply helping older adults to come outside, connect with nature, and with their community: "I’m able to walk in now and the residents suffering from memory loss recognize me: They know my name, they recognize my face," she says. "I’ve been able to become a member of this community just by coming in....I’m able to help them go outside, think about nature, and engage with them in a unique and stimulating manner."

You can learn more about the Schweitzer Fellowship Program here.

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