The great pumpkin project

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By Marian Lindsay

Brookfield Garden Club learns more about gardening, life through project assisting Elk Court seniors centre

The Brookfield Garden Club (BGC) is a fairly new group in the area, having started in June 2010. Only in the last year or two have we embarked on doing community projects.

This June we were approached to do one. Now, one would think summers are the perfect times for garden clubs to get into activities and projects. I mean, it’s when gardens are flourishing, the weather is usually fairly good and people’s other commitments may have lessened.

But — ironically — it’s also when garden club members are putting in a lot of time and work on their own gardens. In Nova Scotia, time is of the essence in summer gardening and, to be perfectly honest, not everyone is really keen on taking precious time away from their own plants to do a project. I guess it depends on how seriously you take your own gardening and how busy you are overall.

Still, this potential project seemed fairly simple and served a good cause, in my view. Elk Court, a local Shannex nursing home, asked the BGC to help with a small, but up-to-now elusive goal — to successfully grow a pumpkin for a big pumpkin competition.

Good seniors’ facilities are constantly looking for new ways to keep clients engaged, taking an interest in the things they used to do and in learning new things. They also know that helping clients continue their connections with the community and being active in useful and interesting community activities plays a large role in keeping them healthy and happy, and — probably — even living a little longer.

There are certainly benefits to communities who can integrate community members from one area into other groups’ activities, making everyone feel welcome and more connected overall, as well as sharing different experiences with each other. I think Brookfield has been quite good at that, at least with involving youth and having adults and youth working together to benefit the community.

But until Elk Court was built in the village, it wasn’t as easy to keep those in long term care involved with their own community, or to encourage younger people to spend time with seniors to increase their feelings of connectedness and inclusion.

So when Jannis Sanford, Elk Court recreation/volunteer coordinator, explained to the BGC that the Elk Court had never before managed to produce even one single pumpkin of any type or size — well, most of us just felt we might be able to help and with not too much effort.

Brookfield Garden Club members discussed it; some members had helped at Elk Court before, so there was already a positive relationship there. It was agreed that only those members who were interested and able to participate (which was most of them) needed to actively take part and some would contribute in other ways.

I agreed to serve as coordinator since my mother lives at Elk Court and I know a number of the staff and clients. I’m also able to visit quite often as I live close by, so it’s quite convenient for me to be the direct connection between the two organizations.

Now, the BGC membership isn’t necessarily packed full of experienced giant pumpkin growers. In fact, most of us tend to go in for flowers and ornamental plants more than food gardens. However, most of us had grown one or more species of the “curcurbitaceae” family — even by accident (in my case). And Elk Court even had a couple of clients with long experience in farming and gardening that had a strong interest in being involved with this. So how could we say no?

Pumpkins are basically pretty easy to grow, as long as they get enough sun, food and water and no frost. And after some planning, organizing, researching, calculating and meeting… we got to work in a small space in the South courtyard of Elk Court to prepare the soil and get ready to plant pumpkins!

Right from the start we encountered a few glitches. On one evening, it was planned that one of our members, who lived not too far away, would bring us a load of well-composted horse manure, driving her lawn tractor and wagon a kilometer or so down the road (perhaps a longer drive than anticipated). OK, technically this was slightly risky legally speaking, though similar risks are routinely practiced in these parts (and note: we didn’t actually see her in transit, so we’ll deny all knowledge if questioned).

Our plan was to have the outside gate to the courtyard open so she could drive around the building and right through the gate to where the plot was, where we could quickly and easily off-load the compost directly into the pumpkin patch.

Unfortunately, it turns out I had, perhaps, not been sufficiently clear about this arrangement when running it by the recreation coordinator. We arrived to discover the gate closed and locked with no key around anywhere. What to do?!  

It turned out that luck and innovation was with us! A couple of fine Elk Court staff members — worth their weight in gold in my estimation — promptly took charge of the situation and swiftly scavenged various types of containers, from the manager’s emptied waste basket, to a dishpan, to kitty litter containers and other discovered vessels. We filled them with the compost and handed them over the six-foot fence one by one. Thankfully the compost was well aged and so all manure smell and consistency had been neutralized. This step in the pumpkin growing process took quite a bit longer than we had anticipated.

But no harm done. Now we just had to wait to get the plants and the right phase of the moon for planting. We had decided to get seedlings, as it was already probably too late to start seeds and have pumpkins ready at the required time. One of the garden club members donated the seedlings as her contribution to the project.

It’s common wisdom that planting vegetables around here should wait till after the full moon in June. We weren’t actually sure of the scientific value of this advice, but as we had had a very wet, cold spring, we didn’t think we should take any chances on displeasing the pumpkin gods. So we set the planting date for June 14, a day after the full moon. As it was, it rained all that weekend anyway, so we didn’t actually get pumpkin plants in the ground until June 16.

This was actually a good thing, as on a weekday we were able to make the planting a fairly brief, but suitably momentous event with recreation coordinator Jannis Sanford and site manager Stephanie Watton in attendance. Our “official” picture taker Elsie Locke snapped away as an enthusiastic client did the honours of placing each plant in the ground carefully and expertly.

I find it encouraging to note our muscle memory doesn’t fade much as we age, even though our mind memory often does. You could tell that this client had planted many a seedling before and he knew good soil when he saw it — his hands still easily remembered what to do. A lot of our knowledge and experience stays with us forever, which is comforting to those of us confronting our own impending old age not too far off.

My discovery of this attests to the value of having different generations working together on something where we all learn new things, and have the satisfaction of teaching new things to others. It was wonderful to see this client just light up as he helped us outdoors on a nice day. I think he felt back in his element. Witnessing his enthusiasm was worth the price of admission for me.

So now we water and wait. Throughout the week, Sanford makes sure the pumpkins are watered, as needed, with client helpers when possible; club members take turns checking on the plants each weekend. The plants have grown a bit bigger, have developed a few new little leaves so far, but it will be awhile before anything more on our part will be required other than supervision and gentle thoughts flowing their way.

At the end of the project, and possibly once in the middle of this endeavor, I will update any interested readers again. You can follow the progress periodically on BGC’s Facebook site, as well.

This isn’t an earth-shattering, startlingly new or one-of-a-kind partnership or project. But it’s nice to work together, bringing together different groups, different generations, different needs and learning from each other.

And if people take the time to talk to each other and actually listen — we can appreciate how much we all have in common and the many things we can share. This, as well as the good feel of old hands digging in the dirt, can brighten the days of a lot of people, which is definitely a good thing. The eventual pumpkins are just a bonus.

I’ll let you know how it goes, later in the summer. I wish all fellow gardeners a bountiful and beautiful season to reward your hard work and care of the earth. And I encourage everyone to visit and really get to know an elderly person, aside from your own relatives.  It will yield other rewards I guarantee, whatever your age.


Organizations: Brookfield Garden Club

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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