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The Garden Guru of Westerwood: How One Resident’s Passion for Plants Brightens an Entire Community

For Fred H., Westerwood is more than just a place to live. It’s a living canvas for creating his masterpiece: a brilliant garden that’s both a feast for the senses and a source of deep tranquility. Gardening is a way of life for Fred—and a daily opportunity to infuse beauty and vitality into the very fabric of his community.

Looking at Westerwood through his eyes gives you a new appreciation for the mental health benefits of gardening for seniors, as well as a garden’s power to bring joy and connection.

 

Planting the Seed

A senior couple standing outside by a fence and a wild flower garden.Before looking after two different garden plots on campus, the former library director at Franklin University and his wife Ruth Ann still had to make the decision to move to Westerwood. But as Fred explains it, moving to the community wasn’t a difficult choice to make.

“We visited a number of church members that lived here, and they really loved it,” he says. “Since my wife and I have no children, we didn’t want our nieces and nephews to have to make those kinds of decisions later on. So we came here knowing it was a good place, and it’s close to our old house—about three miles away.”

In addition to proximity, the deciding factor to move to our Life Care Community (continuing care retirement community, or CCRC) had more to do with what Fred describes as a few “cancer scares” and peace of mind.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” he says. “I want to make sure my wife has the care she needs if something should happen to me, and now, here we are. We love it here.”

Plus, according to Fred, he was creating too much work for himself at home, which made maintenance-free living that much more appealing.

“I was taking on too much, at least that’s what my wife says,” he explains as Ruth Ann giggles in the background. “Now that we’re here, I can just concentrate on the flower beds and not on the grass or pruning and all the other things that have to be done.”

 

Putting Down Roots

Older couple standing outside in their beautiful garden.Since their arrival, Fred and Ruth Ann haven’t looked back.

“We moved here April Fool’s Day of 2016, and since we’ve gotten here, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to get involved, or maybe a little too involved,” he jokes.

While the couple are part of the welcoming committee, Fred says he’s also on the landscape advisory committee, where his responsibilities include reporting problems dealing with landscaping issues to the buildings and grounds committee (where he also serves). In addition to those committees, he’s also part of the computer technology group and marketing committee.

Even though he and Ruth Ann are involved with the community, Fred’s lifelong passion for gardening remains at the forefront. In fact, Fred revealed he looks after two garden plots: the first is located near the D-wing, while the second is closer to their apartment.

“The D-wing plot isn’t a personal garden,” he says. “The community contributes monetarily to keep that bed going, but I do all the work in it. However, the plot near our apartment is the personal one.”

Although he can only see a small portion of that garden bed from his home, Fred’s enthusiasm for his blooms can’t be contained.

“My wife and I always had cut flowers in the house, so that was one of the things that I wanted to do when I moved here. I wanted to find a place where we could have cut flowers,” he says.

As for his favorite types of flowers, Fred likes annuals but prefers perennials.

“Zinnias are my favorite because they cut the best, but really, I just love to see when we walk in from our garage, we can see these flowerbeds and it brightens your spirits when you can see something blooming there all the time,” he says. “I also really like to grow my own seedlings, because then I can grow the things I like. The front bed is almost all perennials because that requires a lot less work every year. I grow zinnias, asters and dahlias.”

Fred’s connection to plants runs deep. All his family—from his parents to his aunts and uncles—had green thumbs.

“I’ve taken to this naturally, I think, and I really do enjoy it,” he says. “It’s very relaxing for me and it’s neat to plant flowers and bulbs and then see them come up the next year. It teaches you patience. Recently, I’ve discovered that it’s best to cut things back in the spring and not the fall.”

He continues, “My parents had a property that had all kinds of space that I could grow a garden, and they encouraged it, and that’s where it really started. Around the age of 9 or 10. I’m 83 now.”

 

DID YOU KNOW?

When Westerwood originally opened in the 80s, the residents looked after all the landscaping. As a result, people planted interesting shrubs and trees. Fred notes this fun fact because of a gorgeous yellow magnolia tree near the B-wing. “That should not grow in Ohio.” Magnolias are most common in the southeastern region of the United States.

 

Mental Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

Fred is definitely onto something when it comes to how gardens can make seniors feel. According to one university study of 331 gardeners aged 60-95 years, exposure to nature through gardens and gardening activities can positively affect stress recovery by lowering blood pressure as well as slowing heart rate.

Other benefits of gardening for seniors include:

  • Cognitive enrichment. Engaging with new plant species or orchestrating garden ventures offers older adults a platform to express their creativity and garner mental stimulation.
  • Relaxation and restoration. Immersion in natural surroundings serves as a respite from everyday stresses, allowing seniors to unwind and experience a sense of renewal simply by being amidst or observing garden elements.
  • Socialization. Gardening groups offer a way for seniors to not only connect with nature but also with each other. This helps prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness.

 

Making Room for Things to Bloom

For anyone looking to start a garden, Fred warns about overplanting.

“I think the biggest mistake—and I definitely make this mistake—when people are planting is when they go, ‘Oh, I probably have room for one more,’” he says. “That’s when you back off because these flowers are going to take. When their description tells you exactly how much room they’ll take up, be prepared to give them that room.”

Give them room to flourish and be patient: It’s quite the lesson to learn in and out of the garden.

A good place to start? Window boxes, simply because they’re a good option for low maintenance gardening for seniors.

“Start small,” he says. “You can plan a window box more effectively and grow flowers or herbs. Whatever you want.”

 

Admire Westerwood’s Natural Beauty

Easy access to natural beauty is a big part of living at Westerwood. Our Friendship Woods is a certified nature refuge that can never be cut down or developed. If you enjoy walking or connecting with nature, our campus boasts:

  • 23 beautiful acres
  • Nearly a mile of outdoor walking paths
  • Two nature trails
  • Paved paths that are walker- and wheelchair-friendly
  • Benches for birdwatching or book reading
  • Several wildlife feeding areas

 

Come and experience why Fred and Ruth Ann love being part of the Westerwood living community! Schedule a visit to meet our friendly residents and staff, admire our gorgeous grounds, learn about our various amenities, try our delicious food and check out the floor plans to suit your unique tastes. Call (614) 568-0503 today.



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