Miriam “Mickey” Holloway loves to garden. Upon her arrival at Sandy Spring Friends Retirement Community 10 years ago, she faced a challenge: how to garden in a climate different from that in Florida where she once lived.
Within a year, Holloway took a master gardener class and eventually served as the clerk for the Friends Garden Committee. Throughout her years of gardening, she said her passion stems from watching things grow.
“You put a seed in the ground and then the plant comes up and eventually this beautiful flower comes,” Holloway said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The garden is managed by about 10 residents of the Friends House Retirement Community with an average age of 82 — and as old as 94 — who visit the garden regularly to plant, water and maintain the gardens.
Each month of the summer season, the Friends House opens its garden gates to the public to give tours and taste tests. On Tuesday, residents, volunteer master gardeners and community members walked among the bees and butterflies to tour the several acres that were once Quaker farmland in historic Sandy Spring.
Beth Morrison, a Friends resident who serves as the clerk for the gardening committee, said the residents work alongside about a dozen master gardeners who volunteer at the retirement community every Tuesday for half a day to help troubleshoot with residents and assist them in some physical labor tasks. Morrison said the operating budget for the garden is about $800 per year.
“We’ve been gardening here since 1982 and we had a full-scale kitchen garden until about four years ago,” said Morrison, an avid gardener.
The Gardening Committee at Friends posts fliers to a bulletin board in the house to notify other residents of what is ripe. Those beds are then marked in the garden with poles with orange tops so residents can know what is ripe and ready for picking, said Morrison. Residents are also invited on informal tours of the garden where they are shown how to harvest fruit, vegetables and herbs.
Sometimes, Morrison said, she and other resident gardeners will pick ripe produce and bring to a bench that residents know to go to for freshly picked items from the garden. The bench serves as a collection site for elderly residents who may not be able to walk through the garden.
“We take what we get as long as it’s not in bad shape or too much of it,” she said. “There’s almost always something new.”
The garden began as a kitchen garden in 1974 when the first greenhouse was built and has grown to about 67 feet by 62 feet with 12 private plots, fruit trees, cutting and butterfly gardens and two beehives full of bees that pollinate the flowers and plants within the garden. A new greenhouse was built in 2004 and a large pergola was built by residents and their families in 2011.
The edible crops this year include: rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, chard, lettuce, string beans, zucchini and yellow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets and potatoes with a variety of herbs and honey from the beehives kept on-site.
Master gardener Kathy Eighmey, of Potomac, said everything is reused and recycled in the garden, including the bamboo taken from a nearby area that is used for garden stakes and the water from the nearby pond that feeds into the hoses that water the garden. The residents also make their own compost with leaves from the grounds and some leftover scraps from the kitchen. The walkways of the garden are lined with cardboard as a way to discourage weeds, which Eighmey called a “constant battle.”
Silver Spring resident Joe Schechter was one of the first few master gardeners who volunteered with Friends about six years ago. He said he considers his role to be that of a “journeyman” who works alongside the residents when they have a bug problem or a plant that does not thrive.
“When it comes to gardening you never know everything,” he said. “We work side by side, and it’s just a terrific experience for us as master gardeners and as people.”