The East Ridge gardeners may have discovered their own fountain of youth in an unlikely location: the shade house of the retirement community.

Here, amid a variety of tropical plants, pots and soils, these avid gardeners enjoy nurturing their ‘green thumbs’ while reaping the many benefits of the activity which has been linked to longevity.

Gardening has been found to reduce stress and positively impacts physical and mental health. A variety of studies have found that gardeners had lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, after gardening and were less stressed than their indoor counterparts.

Residents Volunteer

Resident Bob Parkerson (85) has enjoyed gardening for as long as he can remember. The appointed caretaker of the community’s shade house, he considers it his domain and can be found there practically every day. Working along with Bob are volunteers Helena Plaks (91) and Kathleen Frost (91).

Helena and Bob have been long-time gardeners and share a love working with plants. Helena volunteers once a week while Kathleen manages the community’s plant shop where plants are sold one day a week on Tuesdays, concurrent to the hours when the East Ridge Thrift Shop is open to the public. The money raised is donated to the community’s Town Hall projects.

Bob draws on his love of merchandising and happily arranges the plants to sell. They try to affordably price plants and are less expensive than garden centers, enabling people to take home a plant that is perfect for a windowsill or lanai.

The maintenance-free lifestyle of East Ridge offers residents new found freedom and time to pursue interests such as gardening.

Volunteers are always welcomed and especially those with gardening experience.

“We can use help propagating plants, pulling weeds, watering and transplanting,” said Helena. “When a new recruit comes by, we’ll find out what are their interests and knowledge level and then learn together.”

Experience Helps

While Helena learned gardening from her mother and at one time cultivated over 300 orchids, Bob had a home garden which he tended for 25 years. He planted many varieties of tropical plants from seeds. When he and his wife, Janet, moved to East Ridge nearly 12 years ago, he happened upon the garden shop and asked if he could be of help.

“Before I knew it, I became the leading caretaker helping the two residents who were handling the garden center. It’s been my thing ever since,” he explained. “I simply enjoy seeing things grow. We never need to buy any plants. Some plants are nurtured from seeds while residents bring us their castoffs. It’s not unusual for someone to stop by for what we call plant support and we’ll nurture something back to health. We’ve even babysat for favorite plants when a resident is away.”

In addition to the shade house, the East Ridge’s grounds of over 76 acres include a rare nature preserve with palm trees and an extensive variety of flowering and tropical plants like the exotic Baobab and Neem trees.

If you would like to learn more about East Ridge and its maintenance-free lifestyle, please call to arrange a tour at 305-256-3564.

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