The Culinary Wellness Garden: A Labor of Love
One of the unique features of The Nathaniel Witherell’s gorgeous campus is our well-tended and designed gardens. Our Rose Garden, where we enjoy seeing beautiful pink and champagne blossoms throughout the summer, is the site of many lively barbecues and outdoor entertainment. Our Friendship Garden, a gift from the Friends of Nathaniel Witherell, is a favorite spot to visit with family or enjoy an al fresco lunch from the Witherell Café.
There is also our unique Culinary Wellness Garden, launched years ago by two friends and former business partners, Bob Willis and Harry Shea. These two food industry veterans joined forces to supply Witherell residents with fresh, locally grown produce for their daily meals. Sadly, Bob Willis passed away before the groundbreaking in 2017, but his legacy, and the hard work of Harry Shea in the years since, live on.
Recently, Greenwich Community Gardens took on responsibility for the Culinary Wellness Garden. Greenwich Community Gardens is a non-profit that creates organic community gardening opportunities for Greenwich residents to rent a plot for their individual gardening pleasure.
At the Culinary Wellness Garden, volunteers have worked under the direction of professional gardener and horticulturist, Alan Gorkin, and have been supported through generous donations from Mary Jo Bridge from Sam Bridge Nursery in Greenwich.
During the pandemic, as nursing homes were required to shut their doors to visitors to safeguard the health of frail seniors, the Culinary Wellness Garden became an important connector for Witherell family members. Members of the Witherell’s Family Council came together to volunteer at the garden knowing that this labor of love was for the benefit of their loved ones.
Suzanne Brown, a nurse and private geriatric care manager, organized the Family Council and Community Garden volunteers. Suzanne’s mother is a Witherell resident, and her time spent in the garden gave her a positive outlet during a very challenging time. “We celebrated at the end of the season with a small outdoor mask wearing gathering,” said Suzanne. “Photo boards created showed the garden changes during the growing season. One special photo stated ‘Why We Do It’ with a photo of our loved ones looking out from the windows. Being in the garden helped us feel more connected to those we missed.”
In 2020, the Culinary Wellness Garden yielded 500 lbs of food! The garden’s crop list is created in coordination with the Witherell’s chef to select vegetables most suitable for the dietary needs of seniors. In 2021, the decision was made to add more flowers, in the hope that the residents would have a fresh flower on their meal tray whenever possible. Suzanne, along with Mary Jo Giunta, coordinated and kept 10-12 core volunteers very busy, along with the occasional “drop in” volunteer. Suzanne notes that they’re always willing to accept new volunteers. “Especially for weeding! The weeds are always trying to win.”
Lettuce is currently being harvested and tomatoes will be soon to follow. Then, it’s on to peas, beans, herbs (sage, rosemary, mint, chives, basil), squash, cucumbers, carrots, beets and eggplant. The garden will also have abundant sunflowers and a pollinator and butterfly garden.
For some, a love of gardening drives their work. For Witherell Family Council Members, it’s the love of a loved one. “For us, it’s a way to do something for the people who mean the world to us,” says Suzanne. “Many community volunteers were also motivated by a love of gardening, but many were also missing their loved ones so far away. They too felt more connected by doing something for seniors.”
To become a garden volunteer, contact Suzanne Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org