University of Illinois Extension

Gardening Year Round in DuPage County

Gardening Year Round at the DuPage Convalescent Center is a collaborative project located in Wheaton, IL.  It brings together University of Illinois Extension  Master Gardeners from DuPage County, garden volunteers, the Bloomingdale Garden Club, Prosek’s Greenhouse, Platt Hill Nursery, Midwest Groundcovers, Cantigny Park, College of DuPage Horticulture Department, Flowers by Design (a floral wholesaler) and many individuals to improve the quality of life of residents at this county-operated nursing home.   The DuPage Convalescent Center (DPCC) serves more than 330 Residents (ages 23 – 106) who have long-term medical needs and/or significant disabilities. 

The Master Gardeners involvement at the DPCC began in 2009 under the guidance of Henry Parker, DPCC Recreation Therapy Coordinator and Garden Supervisor.  Twenty or more volunteers and two garden volunteers currently comprise the “Garden Team” that meets weekly during the growing season with residents of the DPCC Resident Garden Club.

Master Gardeners teach short garden lessons each week to the Resident Gardeners and administer “quizzes” following the lessons to determine learnings.  In the past two summers, 23 lessons were taught and included such topics as the specific vegetables grown in residents’ garden plots (e.g., varieties, growing conditions, size when mature, when to harvest), herbs, beneficial and harmful garden insects, issues pertaining to weather, and composting.  Resident Gardeners actively participate in the lessons and quizzes, sharing their own personal experiences with the topic being discussed.

During the “non-traditional gardening months” the Garden Team assists 40 residents each month to complete Garden Craft Projects which are available to all DPCC residents.   Each craft project includes a “mini-lesson” taught by a member of the Garden Team.  For example, when residents made pine cone birdfeeders, they also had a mini-lesson on “Common Northern Illinois Winter Birds.”  The Garden Craft Projects include the use of natural materials, “permanent botanicals,” and/or “everlastings,” along with essential oils as appropriate to provide a multisensory experience. The Garden Team meets prior to each craft project to prepare “kits” of materials, adjusting the contents and focus to meet the individual needs of residents.  They love sharing their Garden Craft Projects with family and friends.

Each year, more than 50 residents participate in the DPCC Resident Garden Program.  Garden Team lessons are very interactive.  Equally, if not more, important than sharing their expertise in gardening, the Garden Team members work one-on-one with residents, talking with them, listening to them, sharing stories and smiles, and directly engaging the residents in the gardening experience.  Over the past two summers, residents’ attendance at Garden Club meetings has increased, and they continually demonstrated greater interest and participation in the lessons.

In July, 2012, a Garden Walk through the Resident Garden planned by the Garden Team, DPCC residents, and staff welcomed more than 250 guests – residents, their families, DPCC staff, members of area garden clubs, county officials, and community members.  Resident Gardeners, sporting corsages and boutonnieres made by two Master Gardeners, served as tour guides.

Residents say we make a difference in their lives!  Many residents visit The Garden daily and love being immersed in its beauty and serenity, use it for physical therapy activities, or just as an oasis to think, recharge, and enjoy.  Additional residents joined the Resident Garden Club in 2012 and diligently and enthusiastically tend their vegetable and flower gardens.   The Resident Garden is considered the “JEWEL” of DPCC.  Numerous articles in area newspapers and an article in Chicagoland Gardening Magazine have featured the Resident Garden, the Master Gardeners’ involvement, and that of its partners.  Noted by the DPCC Resident Council:  “The 2012 garden season has been the best in the program’s thirty year history thanks to… (the) wonderful team of garden volunteers.  We feel blessed…”

According to Beth Welch, Administrator of DPCC, “We are always looking for opportunities to improve the quality of life of our residents by helping them ‘do as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.’  Gardening Year Round not only supports our mission, it greatly enhances the Therapeutic Horticulture Program at the Center and improves the quality of life of our Residents.”