Senior citizens’ enthusiasm for gardening is growing

Seniors and staff gathered at the Niskayuna Community Center recently to plan for a brand-new club that will encourage novices and experts to garden together without straining knees or backs. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)Seniors and staff gathered at the Niskayuna Community Center recently to plan for a brand-new club that will encourage novices and experts to garden together without straining knees or backs. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

BY REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — After a long winter, a handmade gift from a 2014 Niskayuna High School graduate is finally bringing sunshine at the Niskayuna Senior Center.

Two raised planters, donated in October by Jake Rutland as part of his Eagle Scout project, are the center of the newly formed gardening club at the senior center. On April 14, the club had its first meeting, where about a dozen seniors gathered to daydream about the colorful plants they’ll soon begin to cultivate — and the joint pain they won’t.

“They’re raised. That’s a really big challenge, not just for seniors but for everybody, getting down on the ground,” said Lisa Stevens, a town employee who will help to lead the club.

Lynn Lauzon-Russom said working in the donated raised planters will provide her with a way to continue one of her favorite hobbies, even as she begins to admit she can’t keep up with her gardens at home anymore.

“I realize over time, it’s my body. It’s the knees,” she said. “With my knees just aging, it’s harder to get down to keep things clean. The lifting is another issue.”

Lauzon-Russom said it would have been a difficult spring if it weren’t for the new club at the senior center, which will allow her to grow vegetables and flowers alongside friends, rather than having to give up gardening altogether .

“I love it, especially this time of year,” she said. “To go out and have a BLT with your own fresh tomatoes.”

There were several novices in the group, too, who had never done much gardening but thought, without having to go it alone, that growing something green sounded like fun.

The garden promises to be a productive complement to another healthy initiative at the senior center. Just a few months ago, the center partnered with the Cornell Cooperative Extension under a grant from Schenectady County to create a completely new menu for the senior center, with a focus on fresh ingredients and healthier offerings at their twice-weekly lunches.

“We would love to see some vegetables grown in them because we do cook two times a week downstairs,” Stevens said.

“Today we had a vegetable quesadilla, which was delicious,” she added. “Herbs would be awesome.”

The seniors also hope to garden along a walkway on the lower level that’s scheduled to get some attention from the Niskayuna Highway Department later this season. The town intends to replace aging wooden beams with fresh brick, which would leave the sides of the walkway at about chest height, creating another space for easy planting.

There, the seniors would likely plant flowers.

At the first meeting, the team of future senior gardeners tossed out ideas that would bring the whole community to their table. They suggested partnering with the Cornell Cooperative Extension once again to provide classes, or inviting artists to paint still lifes. They talked about creating a “Veggie Mobile,” where they could drive around and sell their freshly grown produce, and suggested inviting Girl Scouts and students to come and get their hands dirty.

But no matter what might sprout up next from the promising planters, it’s bound to be a good time.

“I like to play in the dirt,” senior Lucy Gallagher said. “That’s what it amounts to.”