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Longwood at Oakmont residents get green thumbs working

Tips from pros

Interested in starting your own garden? Here are tips from Bill Ferguson and fellow gardener Peggy Menges, residents of Longwood at Oakmont. Both have years of growing experience.

Keep it simple: Begin with a small plot and determine what plants and vegetables you like to grow, Ferguson says. Green beans, tomatoes and herbs are easy choices to start. He suggests chives and basil for first-time gardeners — but warns against mint, which can be hard to get rid of later. When choosing flowers, Menges says that perennials come back every year but flower at certain times. Annuals last for only a season, but provide a garden with lots of nice color. For beginners, she suggests planting daffodils, which deer won't feast on.

Timing is Everything: By mid-May, it's safe to plant a majority of flowers and vegetables in the greater Pittsburgh region, according to Ferguson. Peas, radishes, parsley and spinach do fine in cooler weather. Rhubarb, a perennial, will not only withstand cooler temps but also will reproduce each year.

Location, location: Choose spots that will provide the right amount of sunlight, which varies from plant to plant, Ferguson says. Place your garden near a water source. If making raised beds, be sure you will be able to reach the middle of the bed. In addition, Menges says that most flower and vegetable plants thrive in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5; 7 is neutral.

Harvest time: When you are going out to pick corn, put a pot of water on to boil before you do. “By the time you get back, the water will be hot,” Ferguson says, adding, “corn's better when it's really fresh.”

— Julie Martin

By Julie Martin
Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When someone is missing from one of Jason Klein's exercise classes, the wellness coordinator at Longwood at Oakmont, a retirement community in Plum, knows where to look. In the garden.

He doesn't mind when he sees residents planting and tending their vegetables, flowers and herbs.

“If you want to know the benefits of gardening, just come out to Longwood and look at everybody here,” he says. “All of that physical activity involved with gardening, that's going to give you all the benefits of exercise.”

Klein recalls one long-time resident who gardened until he was 98 years old.

“I think that, by doing that all his life and getting all that physical activity outdoors, that prolonged his life,” he says. “And he's not the only one. You can see the benefits of gardening, just by coming out here and seeing the gardeners.”

Longwood residents who like gardening share a community garden and also may tend to smaller plots or pots around their apartments. Those involved with the community garden choose a planter box and grow whatever they like. Unclaimed boxes are filled with corn, which is shared by all.

Bill Ferguson is active in the garden. He oversees the community corn, in addition to his own vegetables.

The garden space, he says, includes 48 4-foot-by-8-foot plots in raised beds, a shared water source, a shed with tools that all share and compost bins.

More than just tomatoes, zucchini and flowers grow within the fence in the common area.

“The garden, it gives you a really good opportunity to get to know your neighbors here,” Ferguson says.

Another Longwood gardener, Garnet Clark agrees.

“We don't have meetings or such, but there are always people tending their gardens when you are there, so you make friendships and better relationships,” she says.

“We all check what each other has, and think about what we might want to put in next year. It ends up being a bit of a social place, too.”

That is another benefit of gardening for those at Longwood, according to Klein.

Longwood, he says, boasts not only the greenest thumbs in the Valley, but in all of Allegheny County.

“My favorite part is the end result,” he says. “Just walking through and seeing all these beautiful red tomatoes, these ginormous eggplants and these beautiful flowers.”

“And, when you talk to (the residents), their faces just light up.”

The enthusiasm that grows in the community garden, he says, inspires staff to get involved in gardening, as well.

For Clark and her fellow gardeners, their plentiful bounty is shared with family and friends. Residents will leave baskets of their extra vegetables out for others. She gives hers to her children when they come to visit.

The garden provides plenty for her, and not just tomatoes, zucchini and bouquets.

“I think it's a healthy thing to be right out in the fresh air and the sunshine, as well as working the soil. There is something natural about that,” she says.

“It just makes for a fun, contented and satisfied life.”

Julie Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.



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