Green Queens are a growing concern
The Eastern Zone Community Centre practises box gardening in its classes for seniors. Centre custodian Greg Smith built the boxes, which allow soil to be packed at a greater depth.
The boxes can be built to any dimension. The Green Queens’ winning entry at the Ag Show this month measured 3ft by 3ft.
Other advantages of box gardens are that they keep pathway weeds from garden soil and provide better drainage. They are also a good option for people without a lot of land.
The sound of the ten women hollering was remarkable.All senior citizens, they had decided to go to the Ag Show together to see what judges thought of their box garden filled with broccoli, kale, lettuce and green onions.
The screams came when they spotted the blue ribbon.
“When we saw the prize on our box we were ecstatic,” said Sherry Skinner. “We were like a bunch of children.”
The win was particularly great as the women, who call themselves the Green Queens, only started gardening a year ago.
They became involved through the Eastern Zone Community Centre, a government programme in St George’s, run by Tiffany Paynter.
She put the gardening classes, which are led by Marilyn Trott, on the roster in September 2017 having seen similar projects operate successfully in the US. The women work on seven beds — each 5ft by 5ft — a butterfly garden and a banana patch.
“The Eastern Zone Community Centre is one of the few local community centres with a bit of land,” Ms Paynter said.
“We started with three beds then we had a donation of different plants from Tulo Valley Plant Nursery. We are flourishing.”
The Green Queens range in age from 65 to 77. Most live nearby although one, Marva Bridgewater, drives in from Paget.
Ms Paynter decided to include the classes because of the numerous benefits gardening offers to seniors. The women take home whatever they harvest and it is also an opportunity to get healthy food on their plates.
“And they are getting fresh air and exercise,” she said. “We really are here trying to make sure that our seniors are taken care of. I think they become more youthful when they are in the gardens. That is a beautiful thing.”
An added bonus was that the programme presented an opportunity for people to socialise.
“You see some people stay home and just wither, but that was not my plan,” said Waverly Harvey, who signed up in October, having worked in housekeeping for many years.
“With that type of work, I was on my feet all day and when I went home, it was about not being on my feet.”
A friend told her about the Old Military Road centre and she signed up, eager to try something new.
“It’s not something I ever thought I’d be doing. I have been involved now for just over a year and I’m loving it. It gives everyone something to do. You don’t have to stay at home and get old.”
Barbara Jean Burgess made repeated attempts at gardening after she retired from BTC 15 years ago, but “everything” she touched died despite sage advice from her sister, Frances Eddy, a veteran gardener.
Desperate, she joined the gardening programme and discovered the problem was not her, it was her soil.
“I live in Bailey’s Bay,” Ms Burgess said. “The soil has a lot of clay in it. That’s why the area down there is called Claytown. You need to put more stuff in it to make it rich. That’s why I started the compost.
“The teacher says just take the top off a carrot, stick it in the ground and it will grow. Right now I have one carrot growing just from the top of a carrot. I have parsley, thyme, a pepper tree, pumpkins ...”
She stayed on after her problem was sorted because the lessons were fun and she liked the other members of the group.
They grow everything from bananas and lettuce to cilantro and tomatoes at the community centre. When it is time to harvest, they each get a bag to take home.
The Green Queens also do art, knit, cook and go to lunch together every so often.
They officially tend to their plots every Thursday between 11am and 1pm, but they are often there at 2pm doing some gardening, but mostly chatting and teasing each other.
“We have become a family,” Bernette Cann said. “We have become very close from the garden. We look out for each other.”
Erline Dowling lives across the street from the centre. The Green Queens would see her walk by and kept inviting her to join them.
“I kept on saying I was coming,” she said. “I was at home relaxing.”
In January she gave in. She jokes that the most difficult part of the programme is “getting the dirt out from under my nails afterward”.
“I have to buy some gloves.”
• For more information on the Eastern Zone Community Centre: firstname.lastname@example.org or 297-1754. Membership is free