The scent of basil and lavender are quite apparent in the early fall sun aside the Connolly Center these days.
The small vegetable garden sits in the side yard accompanied by a good number of herb plots has blossomed this fall under the care of the Everett Senior Garden Club, which is sponsored by the Cambridge Health Alliance’s Aging Wisely program. It’s the second year for the program, said Director Kathleen O’Brien, and this year it’s really taken off.
That’s in no small part related to the efforts of Rose DeMaria, an expert gardener with her own operations at her home who has also recruited several friends from the Center to work in the club’s garden.
“We don’t waste anything,” she said. “We use it all and it’s very fresh food. We’re going to have an end-of-season lunch later and all of us are looking forward to that.”
DeMaria and O’Brien spurred on several other members to try gardening for the first time, or to pick it back up after many years of not gardening. The kick off came last year when DeMaria had everyone over to her home for a complete fresh meal from her garden.
“When Rosa had us over and fed us, that’s what convinced me,” said Mary Piorun, who is 97. “I left there saying I went all my life without a garden, and I should have had a garden. You can really get your hands into it… I have a hard time seeing, but I can get really close to the vegetables. I can see them and feel them in my hands and that means I can watch it grow. You can see how little it was and the next week how much bigger it’s become. I like the basil and the celery and the tomatoes – I just pick them and eat them. We’re going to get a lot more next year because we’ve all learned so much.”
O’Brien said the group begins the process by meeting in February and making a plan for the garden. Then they start growing all of the plants from seed before the last frost. Once the gardening starts, they participate in activities like making fresh salad dressings from their herbs, choosing the one they like the best to eat on a salad grown in-house.
Meeting every other Thursday, the activities are also complemented by visits from specialists who work at the hospital, such as a nutritionist, a geriatrician and a yoga instructor.
“The food and nutrition is important, but also socializing, making friends and having so much fun together is very important to good health,” said O’Brien. “Many of those in the club have been coming to the Connolly for many years, but through gardening they have grown much closer to each other.”
And they’ve learned a little more about their food too.
“I’ve learned so much doing this,” said Rita Azulay. “I never had a garden and never thought I’d like it, but that changed. Before this, I thought everything just grew in the supermarket!”
While holding a fresh stick of celery she planned to use in her soup, Judith Orlandino said it’s about getting back to the basics.
“We have to get back to the basics and that’s what this is – getting back to the basics,” she said. “I believe all the modern diseases we have now, we may not have so much of that if we got back to the basics like this. My grandparents came over from Europe so I grew up with this kind of thing. They had five lots of land. They had a garden, some chickens and a pig. When I had children, I didn’t have a garden. All those years I wanted to do it again. This program made that possible.”
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Looking over some of the fresh lettuce, arugula and herbs are members of the Everett Senior Garden Club, based out of the Connolly Center and led by Kathleen O’Brien (second from left). Shown here are members Rosa DeMaria, Judith Orlandino, Rita Azulay, and Phyllis Morley.
Mary Piorun, 97, looks over some peppers growing on the plants.
The Everett Senior Garden Club poses around some of their plots at the Connolly Center last week. The club is growing in its second year, led by Kathleen O’Brien and dedicated member Rosa DeMaria.