Member Helena Thomson and the ‘Giving Garden’ at Newington Senior and Disabled Center.
While in the Master Gardener program, Helena Thomson learned that The Newington Senior and Disabled Center had received a grant from the Central Connecticut Health District ACHIEVE program to create a vegetable garden. They needed volunteers and this was a perfect way for Helena to satisfy the 30 hours of Community Outreach that is required of all Master Gardeners.
The original group of volunteers included two other Master Gardener interns, seasoned gardeners and folks who wanted to learn how to garden. An unused shuffleboard was transformed into two 4x50x4-foot raised beds. A contest was held to name the garden with the winner being the Giving Garden.
Over the course of five growing seasons an herb bed, perennial bed, blueberry bushes, corn patch, rhubarb, and a winter squash bed have been added…. all organic! The produce is harvested and distributed to local residents through the Newington Food Pantry.
“Helena is really the core of the garden,” Senior Center Director Dianne Stone points out. “During the dead of winter, when we forget we have a garden outside, she is thinking about the garden.”
That’s why Helena was chosen as the center’s Wall of Honor recipient at a recent ceremony celebrating the work of volunteers. She would never reveal this accolade in regular conversation. In fact, Thomson used her award speech to recruit more volunteers. “Everybody has a different strength,” Helena says of her team.
Center Director, Diane Stone, attests to the team’s collective strength. “Management and care of the garden is all volunteer-driven. Staff really doesn’t play a role any longer. Volunteers come with their ideas and it’s a way for them to exercise their creativity and passion, while helping the community.
Newington Human Services staff and volunteers who facilitate the Food Bank bear witness to the garden’s impact on the recipients. “It has been an amazing partnership and resource for us,” Human Services Director Carol LaBrecque said. “People are so appreciative of those fresh, healthy options grown at the Giving Garden.”
The group of gardeners has expanded their roles to include holding seminars on such garden topics as: starting seeds, growing herbs, growing potatoes/vegetables/flowers in sacks (many of the Senior and Disable Center members no longer have traditional gardens). Discussions take place in the garden over a cup of coffee.
Helena developed her love of gardening from her parents. To this day she continues to learn from other volunteers and from the challenges that Mother Nature presents to her every growing season. In addition to the Giving Garden, she enjoys growing flowers, shrubs and vegetable. Helena also enjoys participating in other activities offered by the Newington Senior Center.
As part of her Master Gardener duties, Helena is one of the Mark Twain House gardening volunteers and on the Hartford Schools Garden Council.