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Getting their hands dirty

Gardening keeps residents active in pandemic

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Kenyon Place Apartments resident Joan Doster holds freshly-picked tomatoes from her plot at the retirement community’s communal garden.

Though Friendship Haven resident Joan Doster has been a gardener all her life, it’s the days during a pandemic when the intrinsic value of a dirt plot really comes alive to her.

Thanks to a plot in the communal garden, the Kenyon Place apartment senior can continue to do something she’s done since 18.

“I was a farm wife, so I’ve had a garden for a long time,” she said.

With plump tomatoes, thick zucchini squash, hot peppers and purple string beans punctuated by decorative zinnias and mint flowers, the eyes can have as big of an appetite that they like, provided there’s still room in the stomach.

“I enjoy keeping it up,” Doster said. “I can’t say I enjoy planting, but I like the food.”

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Zinnias and tomatoes in Joan Doster’s garden at Friendship Haven have grown well this summer, as the Kenyon Place Apartments resident finds herself spending more time there during the pandemic.

Her husband helps plant it, insisting the garden is a must, she said.

And during increased isolation, as grocery shopping, church and pleasant drives around town are about as much human interaction as she can afford in the age of COVID-19, the garden provides a peace for its eight plot owners that has new meaning with outdoor recreation.

“We stay away from other people as much as possible,” she said. “So far, we’ve been lucky over here.”

Even with other exercise options like the pool, social interaction permitted is little to none for those at higher risk of negative outcomes from the virus, as social distancing continues to be necessary. But in the garden, the tomato caretaker is more at ease amid leafy greens and unparalleled sense of calm that comes naturally.

“It gets you outside, and it’s good to be outside,” she said. “Every time you get out and move muscles and get fresh air, it has to be healthy for you.”

This year’s garden has produced some of the best produce she and her husband have seen since they started gardening there five years ago, in part because of the new water line installed to the garden that makes it easier to water than before. Fencing around the area keeps common garden foes like rabbits and deer at bay, too.

The deer haven’t bothered to jump it yet, Doster reported.

“You’ve got to get certain varieties (of plants) in certain spots,” she said. “The whole secret is to keep it clean and keep it weeded. I go out every other day and keep it picked and cleaned.”

If you don’t let the leaves get heavy, you’ll have a good garden, she said.

And while it may not be a fountain of youth, the feeling of gardening may be enough to make you feel grounded with reduced human contact in difficult times.

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