‘A sense of purpose’

Brookridge residents stay busy through gardening

Petunias and tomatoes are just several of the plants tended by residents at Brookridge Assisted Living & Memory Care, located in the city of Marquette. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Tending a garden — even the tedious task of weeding — can be preferable to sitting inside and watching television.

Especially if you have a nice view of a hillside filled with wildflowers.

Brookridge Heights Assisted Living & Memory Care, located at 1901 Division St., Marquette, has an informal gardening get-together that takes place every morning during the growing season.

Brian Gaudreau, memory support director at Brookridge, oversees the gardeners.

“We don’t really call it a club or anything,” Gaudreau said. “It’s just a group that gets together every morning. The whole point of this is engagement, to keep us doing things that we’ve done over the years and give us a sense of purpose.”

Brian Gaudreau, memory support director at Brookridge Assisted Living & Memory Care, helps resident Beverly Ghiardi install plants at the facility Wednesday. Gardening is a frequent activity for residents during the growing season. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

He talked about Brookridge resident Joe Beatty, a retired fire chief, as one person who keeps busy through the gardening sessions.

“He wants to be working all the time,” Gaudreau said. “He’s like my shadow. So, we’re always looking for things to do.”

On Wednesday morning, one of those “things to do” for Beatty was working on a planter stand.

“It needs to be repainted, so he’s doing all the sanding,” Gaudreau said.

After the painting, small pots were to be placed on the structure and placed in the west courtyard area where bigger flower barrels — planted by the residents — are found, he said.

Margaret Turner, right, and Judith Beltrame, residents at Brookridge Assisted Living & Memory Care, work in the facility’s garden Wednesday. Residents tend the garden every morning during the growing season. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Gaudreau said the gardeners perform a variety of tasks.

“Every pot that we have on the property right now has been planted by residents,” Gaudreau said.

A rock garden also used to be filled with weeds. It was pretty much weed-free this week.

That takes work, he acknowledged.

“But they take their time,” Gaudreau said.

One advantage to the garden in which the residents worked Wednesday is its location.

“We’re south exposure here for six to eight hours a day,” said Gaudreau, who mentioned that he read in Northern Magazine — Northern Michigan University’s publication for alumni and friends — that the region typically has an 80-day growing season.

“Here, we have much more direct sunlight and it works much better,” Gaudreau said.

The Brookridge garden has plants like zucchini, eggplant, green peppers and tomatoes.

That makes for a healthy harvest.

“At the end of the season, we make a big deal out of it, and use it for dinner and lunch or salads, or whatever,” Gaudreau said.

Brookridge provides the plants and tools for the gardening projects.

A little supervision — providing direction and keeping everybody on task — helps too.

The Brookridge residents, though, are a long way from being a bunch of unruly, undisciplined teenagers.

However, with advancing age comes challenges.

“People get depressed,” Gaudreau said. “They get anxious. It’s the most wonderful place to bring our residents out and just sit and have conversation, and they have coffee out here.”

In her integrated biosciences master’s thesis, NMU graduate Rachel Ochylski discovered that gardening increased social engagement and reduced self-reported indicators of depression among older adults living in a long-term care facility.

Ochylski conducted a 15-week study at the greenhouse at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette. She also recorded vital signs of college students at NMU before and after 30 minutes of horticultural intervention in the NMU greenhouse. A notable finding was a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure after gardening, which could help prevent coronary heart disease.

Count Brookridge resident Margaret Turner as a productive gardener who benefits from the outdoorsy activity.

“It’s so nice to be outside in the fresh air,” Turner said.

Judith Beltrame, another Brookridge resident, appreciates the garden’s aesthetics.

That means tidying it up.

“I like to do things like this,” Beltrame said.

Turner also likes working with Gaudreau.

“He’s so nice,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer person — so patient with all of us.”

The gardeners also tend to look out for one another, with one resident suggesting to another that she garden first, then get a manicure.

The garden involves more than taking care of petunias.

Gaudreau said there’s an “unbelievable” amount of wildlife that can be spotted. In fact, one resident has seen a white-tailed doe and two fawns in the area where a creek is located.

“They come down and they’re chasing each other around,” he said. “Every morning, I get a report of what happened the night before.”

Beatty also saw a coyote chasing something on a nearby hill, Gaudreau said.

“Joe likes to count birds, and he’s watching birds all the time,” said Gaudreau, who said fixing up bird feeders is another Brookridge project.

He and Gaudreau appear to have a fun connection with each other.

When told that Gaudreau said he was a big help in the garden, Beatty quipped: “He’s liable to tell you anything.”

Then it was back to work on the planter.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.