Jun 9th, 2017

Gardening From the Heart

My mother was a gardener. She had blackberries and tomatoes in our backyard, and an herb garden near the back door that flavored her thoughtful and delicious meals.

Katy Rugg and the paver she dedicated to her mom at Lewis Ginter.

We were at Lewis Ginter for a day of Ginter Urban Gardeners training, and I mentioned my mom’s paver to some of my classmates as we were walking that way. My classmate Korantemah Pierce Williams  graciously asked if I wanted a picture with the paver. I wasn’t looking my most glamorous, but I think the joy and feeling of the moment shines through.

In her late 50s, my mom developed early onset Alzheimer’s. When she was ailing, but could still get into the car for occasional excursions, we liked to take her to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she had been a volunteer. She loved it.

Ginter Urban Gardener Katy Rugg, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Community Engagement Coordinator Duron Chavis, Nikiya Ellis, Reminiscence Coordinator at Sunset and John Dodson, volunteer community gardener.

Ginter Urban Gardener Katy Rugg, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Community Engagement Coordinator Duron Chavis, Nikiya Ellis, Reminiscence Coordinator at Sunset and John Dodson, volunteer community gardener.

As a family, we pooled our resources and got a paver in her honor set into the Garden walk (near the Conservatory), so that we could show it to her on our visits. I also put a rosemary plant in the courtyard of her memory care center, where the smell would always bring a smile to her face on our walks, when she could no longer make the trip to visit the Botanical Garden in the car.

Since she became ill, I started becoming more of a gardener myself – and learning about the nutritious benefits of eating what you grow in good soil. I have had many urban gardening adventures – even some overseas in France and England – and all of these experiences culminated for me in the Ginter Urban Gardener program put together by Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Beautiful RVA that I took part in this past winter into early spring.

Swiss Chard. Image by Nikiya Ellis

Swiss chard in a container garden at Sunrise Assisted Living. Image by Nikiya Ellis

Community Gardening

What I loved about this program, that combined some practical classroom learning with outdoor and hands-on experiences – was that the facilitators emphasized the importance of building community and deeper understanding of our city’s past, through projects we took on and will take on in the future. Ginter Urban Gardeners is not just about working successfully with plants and gardens themselves. In this way, we have been prepared to go forth and grow good people and stronger communities within the city and our social circles, not just to grow good gardens and plants. It is coming full circle for me, to plant such healing roots here in Richmond, my childhood home – to give back something of the richness that my life thus far has afforded me.

Community gardening at its finest: herb planter workshop

Working together in community gardening to make a more beautiful outdoor space for the residents of Sunrise Assisted Living.

My first community gardening project as a Ginter Urban Gardener came soon after our classes ended. Duron Chavis, community engagement coordinator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden,  asked me to help plant some garden beds at Sunrise Senior Living Community in Bon Air on Earth Day, in the Southside of Richmond. Especially appealing to me, was the special request of helping to choose plants for some containers for the memory wing. Remembering my mother – what would enliven her in her challenging illness, like the joy that the rosemary gave her (I since have learned that it does have some positive effect on memory) – I knew that the folks at Sunrise would especially love to see some of their favorite old plant friends in the containers. Plants that they could touch, and taste, and smell – and that could perhaps bring back vivid memories of times spent with loved ones, outside in the garden. I wanted to choose plants that might have meaning for a wide variety of people, together we chose lavender, rosemary, lemon grass, tomatoes, peppers, chard, mustard greens, cabbage, violas, marigolds, cilantro, parsley, thyme, mint, geranium, and sage.

A resident of Sunrise Assisted Living helping with the planting for the new garden.

The planters and the garden beds have been a great success so far – and we have been back several times to check on the plants. We are developing a positive relationship with the staff there, and were asked to come for a special ‘garden party’ that they put on for their community partners. Everyone got their own small planter of herbs to take home – and of course, we couldn’t help but take an active part in helping to put them together for everyone. When you make plants your friends, and sharing them with people your mission – it never feels like a burden or serious labor to take part in the process!

Planters with basil and community gardening at Sunrise Assisted Living.

Teamwork! Planting basil, variegated sage and other herbs.

There are other community gardening projects in the works, too, and I look forward to hopefully writing more about that in a later post! I am so very grateful to have taken part in this amazing program, and so very hopeful about the future that we will all help to shape in our city. It will be beautiful, deeply satisfying, healthy, growing and big-hearted… and delicious!

About Katy Rugg

Katy Rugg grew up in Richmond, left for some adventures around the world, pursued a masters degree in intercultural relations, and returned back home again. She spends much of her time in her kitchen making foods and herbal preparations with edible flowers for her small business, Petal Palate, helping to connect people with nature and its healing properties and exploring the culture, plants and wildlife in her own backyard.

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