JOLIET – One day, a man approached one of the garden volunteers at Joliet Area Community Hospice with a request: could his father, who always loved tomato plants, have one outside his window?
So the volunteer, Jean Roach of Joliet, planted a big pot of them in full view of the window, which the patient really appreciated.
“He had it there until he died,” Roach said.
Roach said she was on the hospice board during the home’s construction in the early 2000s and felt, even then, that the landscape ought to reflect JACH’s compassionate care. She didn’t want the sculpted, manicured appearance of many commercial buildings.
“I wanted it to look like a family garden,” Roach said.
Because JACH is the place people come to fully live their last days, Roach wanted the gardens to provide peace, joy and an array of colors – as well as birds and butterflies.
“It didn’t have to be flamboyant,” Roach said. “It could be something as simple as snapdragons and zinnias that people are used to seeing in their gardens at home.”
The first year, Roach said volunteers planted 70 flats of marigolds because marigolds are hardy. That fall, they planted 1,600 bulbs – tulips, crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils – so a variety of colors would appear in the spring.
“We learned that deer liked to eat tulips,” Roach said, “so, consequently, we planted more daffodils.”
Several local nurseries have donated annuals through the years, Roach said, and shared their knowledge, as have members of local garden clubs and master gardeners.
Kevin Eberhard, chief horticulturist for Joliet Park District’s Barber & Oberwortmann Horticultural Center and Bird Haven Greenhouse, said he’s helped volunteers select plants, solve problems (leaves dropping, dead branches and perennials that failed to re-bloom), start their seeds in pots and share extra cuttings from his plants. He’s happy to help.
“Jean puts her heart into the whole garden. It’s her baby,” Eberhard said. “When someone is so passionate about a project, you’re going to get sucked in.”
Caryn Genens, greenhouse manager at Joliet Junior College, has helped in similar ways. Genens praised JACH – her father had received hospice care, she said – and called flowers “food for the soul.”
“I know when I walk in my garden or the garden here [JJC], I feel a peace or tranquility,” Genens said, “so I feel the garden there [JACH] does help the people who come.”
Master gardener Carol Krivickas of Shorewood participates in scheduled volunteer days, but also regularly tends a section, weeding and watering. Waiting patiently in the shade while Krivickas works is Stanley, Krivickas’ 8-year-old rescue dog, who is a Brittany Spaniel Beagle mix.
“We walk around the lake when I’m done and he gets new sniffs,” Krivickas said.
In addition to the actual gardening, Marsha Stowe of Joliet, also a master gardener, maintains a spread sheet of volunteers, organizes work days and helps select plants, which includes milkweed to attract monarchs.
Occasionally, Stowe will bring her 98-year-old mother Eileen Mrozek, who’s in palliative care, along with her, with Mrozek holding the plants on her lap while Stowe pushes her wheelchair. Stowe feels she has made good friends while blessing patients and their families.
“One lady talked about how much she loved the butterflies in the garden,” Stowe said, “and what comfort they were to her and her mother. It doesn’t get any better than that when you hear how much it means to them.”
Blessings and surprises
Lyn Melnick of Joliet is a coordinator for the Cathedral of St. Raymond’s annual day of service. Each year for the past several years, Melnick, her family and several other families and their children have planted 100 bulbs in the hospice garden.
The labor is especially poignant to Melnick. Her mother, Lucille Singraber, received care from JACH before she died in 2011.
“It’s a wonderful way to give back,” Melnick said,
The garden itself is a perennial process of change. An irrigation system, Roach said, means a stop to early morning and evening trips to JACH to water. More perennials mean less soliciting for donations of annuals, such as geraniums and petunias.
There’s coral bells, pink fairy roses and blue asters. There’s vegetables – tomatoes and peppers. There’s pots of herbs in various locations. The goal is to have something blooming all the time, Roach said
But the blessings and the daily surprises – those never change.
One day when Roach was weeding, she spied a mother duck and a nest full of eggs. On another day, she saw movement in one of the three-foot tall planters and jumped back in fright.
It wasn’t a snake, as Roach had feared.
“So we made a sign: ‘Don’t go by the herb pot in the courtyard,’ ” Roach said. “ ‘There’s bunnies in there.’ ”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Volunteer Workday
WHEN: 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 18
WHERE: Joliet Area Community Hospice, 250 Water Stone Circle, Joliet
ETC: New volunteers are always welcome.
CONTACT: Jerilyn Smith, volunteer coordinator at JACH at 815-460-3262