“What this garden needs is a bleeding heart.”Hearing that remark from her 96 year-old mother was a welcome surprise to Karen Malinchock. Karin had started taking her mom to Heritage Hall’s courtyard garden after he mom moved into the Leesburg nursing and rehabilitation facility in 2003. Because her mother hadn’t been talking much since her arrival, Karen hoped that bringing her to the garden might help her adjust to her new home. Her mother had always loved flowers, so what better way for them to spend time together.
Sadly, Karen’s mother passed away in 2005, and now ten years later Karen is still planting and weeding, pruning and sowing in the courtyard garden, as well as, the flowerbeds that surround the facility. Her floral extravaganzas burst with vibrant colors and a diversity of plants. Acknowledging all four seasons, Karen changes the flowers and decorations for each one. Residents, staff or family members, all will testify that a visit to the courtyard is a respite from the routine of daily life.
Albeit a labor of love, tending to Heritage Hall’s gardens is time consuming and hard work. Karen comes several times a week to weed and water and to keep the gardens looking lovely. Three times a year, she recruits about ten members of her garden club to help her do a total garden clean-up and plant bulbs. What’s more, every year members of Karen’s garden club hold a garage sale to raise money to pay for the plants, mulch and other garden necessities that make the grounds look so wonderful.
Karen also recruits her husband, Bob, and her neighbor, Alice, to help her water and prune. Her Mother’s Day gift to Heritage Hall one year was a family work day at the facility. Her four adult children, their spouses and seven grandchildren spent the day raking, weeding, watering and planting flowers. Then the children filled up all the bird feeders outside the residents’ rooms.
One of Karen’s year round courtyard decorations is 27-inch concrete goose with an extensive wardrobe. Karen and the goose received special recognition several years ago in a local newspaper. Using their motor skills and balance, residents have dressed the goose as part of their physical therapy. Its wardrobe varies from a bridal gown to a Harley Davidson biker jacket to a rain slicker. Karen has sewn many of the costumes herself. Whatever the season or holiday you can be sure the goose will be appropriately dressed.
Stretching even further, Karen has used the garden as ways to involve the community in Heritage Hall. She helped a Girl Scout receive her highest award by planning and planting a garden outside of our dementia unit. A ninth-grader completed a church service project by planting and tending a garden at Heritage Hall for the whole summer under Karen’s direction. Karen once provided an opportunity for a young woman who needed to do community service hours by letting her tend the garden.
The garden evokes memories for Karen of her mother, Anna, who inspired her to plant the “bleeding heart” in the courtyard garden. Several years ago the staff surprised her by putting up a plaque in the garden with Anna’s name on it. Karen now calls this special place “Anna’s Garden.” A current sign in the courtyard says, “When heaven falls to earth it becomes a garden.” Maybe it has.