Avid gardener and Fair Haven volunteer Gayle March could not pass up the opportunity. She discovered a large, fenced outdoor space connected to the new memory care household at Fair Haven. As opening day approached for welcoming residents to the new household, she and a few other volunteers grabbed trowels, donned gardening gloves, and dug in to create a workable and edible outdoor vegetable and flower garden.

“All of the plants are edible, even the flowers,” said Gayle. “We have to keep that in mind so that it doesn’t matter if people might have memory issues. Everything out here is edible. No chemicals. You can even dig them up and chew on the roots.

Gayle, who just happens to be the wife of Fair Haven’s Executive Director Dan March, knows how important it is to carefully select what goes into a senior care community garden, particularly one near residents with mild to moderate dementia. The garden contains a wandering path in a basic figure 8 pattern, so that the path does not come to a potentially frustrating end. And all of the plants are edible. The residents can go out to the garden and select items to make a salad.

In the new household culture at Fair Haven, residents who are able and want to participate in the gardening are welcome to do so. A couple of memory care assisted residents are significant contributing volunteers to the gardening project. 

After seeing what is possible, several family members of residents living in Fair Haven’s Long Term Care Household building became excited about planning and planting a new garden to be enjoyed by the 63 residents living there. 

“Family members have given several patio chairs and tables, as well as some large containers for planting,” Gayle said beaming. “We’ve already come together and laid out a preliminary plan for the new garden.” 

The new garden will take advantage of the retaining wall feature behind the building, growing tomato vines over them. Cherry tomatoes that can be eaten right off the vine will grow up the sunflowers to be planted. Residents will be able to go outside, sit and enjoy the garden, or visit with family members as they relax on the outdoor furniture.

Gayle is currently mobilizing volunteers, including a local Girl Scout Brownie troop of 3rd graders, for garden enhancements. As spring arrives, Gayle and the volunteers will plant a number of three sisters gardens along the fence of the memory care household garden. Three sisters gardens are a Native American gardening technique pairing corn, pole beans and squash. The plants thrive around one another and provide important nutrients or protections that the others need.

To make the garden workable, Gayle uses the basement at her home to grow the plants from seed, incubates them to get them started, and then she brings the healthy young plants to the community for transplanting. Any extra plants are given out to staff members or residents’ family members to enjoy.

If you would like to know more about volunteering in or donating furniture, equipment for money to Fair Haven’s gardening projects, you can contact Gayle at info@methodisthomes.org

Gayle can’t quite recall when she began to be interested in gardening, but remembers that she had bought a house with some extra outdoor space and so began filling that space with color. Over the years her passion grew. When Gayle lived in Iowa, she took the training to become a master gardener, and plans to become a master gardener in Alabama.

While volunteering at a retirement community in Kansas, Gayle began a Junior Master Gardener club, where young volunteers built individual gardens for residents and then planted in them anything that the residents wanted. For continuity in the program, during harsher times of the year, the club enjoyed making herb vinegars and terrariums, honing their skills at some indoor gardening. The students also made their own paper by pounding flat wet newspapers strips, buried seeds among the fibers, dried them, and sent them as Thank You notes to the volunteers who had helped in the garden. A volunteer could then grow plants from those seeds just by planting the thank you note! 

For more information on life at Fair Haven, including details on our how to make Fair Haven your or your loved one’s new home new home, contact our marketing team for more information or a tour at 205-956-4150, or by email sblack@fairhavenbirmingham.org.

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