Lou Mallia and Bill Kibler finished up a game of table tennis on a recent Saturday morning and then joined a small group of gardeners at Springmoor Life Care Retirement Community in North Raleigh.
Mallia, 96, and Kibler, 82, Charles Apperson, 88, and LaVerne Brown, 86, are avid gardeners. Most have gardened for most of their lives, and they have not retired their garden tools since moving to Springmoor. In fact, one of the tools is pretty old. Brown uses a 100-year-old hoe that belonged to her parents.
Thom Morgan, Springmoor’s landscape director, tills the soil for their planting bed, which has 24 plots. The plots are available first come, first served, and so far 21 gardeners have come forward and claimed them all. They’ve already been out working in the soil, which has become nice and soft and black over the years, Kibler says.
Working in their gardens has many benefits. The gardeners get exercise, building strength and flexibility. They also gain a sense of accomplishment watching the seeds they’ve planted grow into vegetables to feed themselves, neighbors and family, and to donate to the food bank. And for many, it’s a link to the past. Brown fondly remembers tending a victory garden when her husband, Jim, fought in World War II.
Most plant vegetables, though a few plant flowers. Apperson has planted zinnia seeds and some bedding plants around the edges of his plot.
This is Brown’s first year tending a garden at Springmoor. “I felt real proud when I saw ‘L. Brown’ on a wall of the garden shed.”
When she first moved to the community, she kept to herself. “I didn’t like moving from my house. You live in a house 50 years; you don’t want to leave it.”
But she is right at home now. She has made a lot of friends, and gardening is a good outlet, she says. She grows cucumbers, squash, peppers (“you can’t kill ’em”) and string beans. She put a bluebird box on her plot, too. “I’ve been checking that box and there’s nothing in it yet. They’ll find a home in it eventually maybe.”
Kibler will have his hands full this year. In addition to his vegetable garden plot, he will take care of 23 rose bushes. Twenty of them were planted 17 years ago by Springmoor resident John Harris, 99, who recently moved from a villa with a yard to an apartment. The roses will be in excellent hands. Kibler has grown roses and azaleas since about 1955 in Athens, Ga.; Vienna, Va.; and Raleigh.
“They are so beautiful; I don’t feel like they’re hard to grow, but they require a lot of attention.”
He enjoys seeing other people enjoy the roses. He gives away most of them, except the ones that are gifts for Jane, his wife of 57 years.
Kibler has planted potatoes and three tomato plants. He’ll put in more tomatoes in the next week or two so he’ll have a steady supply over the summer. He also plans to grow green beans, cucumbers and crowder peas this summer and kale in the fall.
Kibler likes being outside, even when it’s hot. “That’s when things grow,” he says.
Kibler is carrying on a tradition of gardening that began when he was a child – one of five children. “I was raised on a farm, and what we had in the garden really carried us through the year.”
Apperson has also gardened since he was a child, starting at age 8 or 9. He was one of 10 children, and during the Depression, the family supplemented meals with food from the garden.
This is his 12th gardening season at Springmoor. “I like to get outside. Play in the dirt,” he says.
He’ll grow tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, okra – and corn, even if the voles eat it up.
He cautions against waiting too long to pick fast-growing zucchini. They’ll grow several inches in no time, he says. When they get big, they’re still edible but they’re not as good. He picks every second or third day, harvesting them when they’re young and tender.
You could say Mallia was a late bloomer. He started gardening after he retired, tending a small plot back home in New Jersey. “I would sit on the back porch and watch the plants grow,” he said, laughing.
He has gardened at Springmoor for 13 years. Now he has a difficult time kneeling, so his son, Lou P. Mallia, will help him in the garden this summer. Mallia has planted Burpless cucumbers, three to four varieties of tomatoes and zucchini. They have erected the framework for a trellis on which the cucumbers will grow.
These four gardeners account for only a small part of the Springmoor gardens. But their work will produce a mighty big harvest.
Springmoor participates in Plant a Row, a program in which gardeners plant an extra row of produce to donate to food-relief groups.
Morgan puts out boxes at the garden shed for gardeners to deposit their surplus. So far this spring, Springmoor gardeners have donated more than 4.5 pounds of red cabbage, more than 10.5 of spinach and 80 pounds of kale to Plant a Row.
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