For more than 75 years, Bob Long has tended to a garden. The size of the garden varied over the years, from his father’s family garden, to the garden he first planted with his wife, to the 40-foot by 80-foot garden they planted on their two-acre plot of land in Solebury Township, Bucks County. Regardless of the size, Long always had his hands in garden soil. For this reason, finding a retirement community with gardening options was at the top of his list.
When he moved to Pine Run Retirement Community in Central Bucks County in 2016, Long didn’t have to leave gardening behind. Back Ache-ers, Pine Run’s communal garden space, was filled with 30 wooden raised garden beds just waiting to be planted with everything from beans and basil to tomatoes and zinnias.
“As soon as I moved into Pine Run, I put my name on the waiting list for a box in Back Ache-ers. I had to wait a year, but I got it,” Long said. “I’ve always been an avid gardener. It’s just that now, my tractor has been replaced by a wheelbarrow.”
Green space gives Pine Run an edge
While many senior living communities offer the same kinds of amenities – libraries, fitness classes, arts and crafts workshops, and a variety of dining opportunities it can be harder to find a retirement community with gardening opportunities. One of Pine Run’s significant advantages lies in its location and layout.
Situated on 43 beautiful rolling acres just north of Doylestown in Bucks County, Pine Run is graced with natural spaces, including a pond, a creek, and lush landscaping. Arranged in friendly, private neighborhood groupings, Pine Run’s independent living garden cottages each have their own entrance. Tucked into the beautiful Bucks County landscape, these homes make the most of the view and the quiet garden setting.
“The fact that we have a country-type setting with our individual apartments was very important to me,” Long said. “This type of environment is one I cherish. The fact that we have as much wildlife and green space as we do here was a big incentive to me to choose Pine Run.”
Older adults who are weighing whether to move into a retirement community may think that because they no longer have a large yard to maintain, their gardening days are over. That’s not true at Pine Run.
Most of Pine Run’s independent living cottages offer space to plant some flower beds or patios to host potted plans. Some even feature interior sun rooms, to winter over potted plants. And for those who want additional growing space beyond their own cottages, the Back Ache-ers garden is a popular amenity.
Raised boxes make gardening easier
Situated at the edge of Pine Run’s campus near Iron Hill Road in Doylestown Township, Back Ache-ers offers Villagers an opportunity to keep a hand in gardening. About 30 4-foot-by-8-foot weathered wooden garden beds march in rows down the garden space. A fence surrounds the area, keeping out deer and other critters. Wind chimes and bird feeders hang from a post on graceful iron hooks.
Villagers are assigned sections of the raised garden beds each year on request, and they are free to plant just about anything they like. The soil within the boxes can be amended each season with compost from a communal heap, to boost the nutrient value of the growing medium.
Long uses one of his boxes to grow rhubarb, which he started from plants harvested from his prior home in Solebury. He recently was able to plant a second box when another plot became available. He planted half of that box with zinnias and half with yellow beans. Both produced so prolifically that he was able to share bouquets of flowers with his daughter and friends and to stash some beans in the freezer to liven up meals on cold winter nights. He also joined the ranks of Villagers growing tomatoes during the recent growing seasons.
“I’ve been enjoying the tomatoes, too,” Long said. “I have been eating a lot of salads for my diet and I try to eat as many fresh vegetables as I can. Also, the flavor is far superior to anything you can buy in a grocery store.”
Growing garden plants, whether vegetables or flowers, within raised garden beds offers several advantages. Raised beds help avoid soil compaction, since no one walks on the beds. They offer better drainage in places where heavy clay soils make water absorption difficult. They typically warm up earlier in the spring and retain warmth longer in the fall, making for a longer growing season. They also can help reduce weeds, and, therefore, weeding, one of the banes of any gardener’s existence.
For older adults, raised beds can make gardening less physically demanding. Raising the surface of the bed up from ground level enables gardeners to perform their routine gardening chores without having to bend over and reach all the way to the ground.
Back Ache-ers attracts Master Gardeners and green thumbs
Ann Eidson, another Pine Run Villager who loves to garden, dedicates most of her Back Ache-ers box to growing Emerite. A slender pole bean of the French filet variety, Emerite stays very tender no matter how large the beans get, unlike many other bean varieties that toughen as they grow. A Penn State Master Gardener volunteer since 1997, Eidson and her husband Jim are deeply involved in both the Back Ache-ers and Pine Run’s greenhouse.
“I enjoy gardening for the same reasons many people do: it’s good exercise and a great reason to get out in the fresh air,” Ann Eidson said. “As a Master Gardener, I get to answer a lot of questions from Villagers, and it makes me think. Sometimes I have to research things; I enjoy the challenge.”
Residents at Pine Run since 2014, the Eidsons also kept gardens at their previous homes. When they moved from Yardley, Bucks County, to Pine Run they were thrilled to apply for a box in the Back Ache-ers.
“I’ve always liked to have flowers around,” Ann Eidson said. “Over the years, we’ve grown potatoes, bush beans, corn, and more. Lots of other people here grow tomatoes, and zucchini, and squash, and cucumbers, so we chose pole beans. They produce a lot, and I like to share them with neighbors. Plus, you don’t have to bend down to pick them.”
In past years, the pole beans have grown so well that the Eidsons bagged up part of their harvest and gave them to a neighbor to donate to a food pantry at her church. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the church volunteers weren’t running the pantry, Ann said, so she bagged up the beans and left packages of them at Pine Run’s Community Center, the Hub, for neighbors to enjoy.
Tom Swartz and his wife Bunny grow a wide variety of flowers and vegetables, including tomatoes, in a glorious tangle of planting beds and containers around their cottage’s patio near the Hub. Tom grows many of his tomato plants from seed and keeps seeds of his favorites from year to year. Like his fellow gardeners, Tom also has been able to grow more vegetables than he can eat, so has been able to leave his surplus bounty at the Hub for other Villagers to sample.
“No one who likes tomatoes passes up the chance to eat a fresh-grown tomato,” said Tom.
In addition to prodigiously producing tomato plants, one of the stars of Tom and Bunny’s patio garden is swamp milkweed. When in bloom, the 2-foot to 4-foot tall perennial is covered with small rosy purple blossoms that are a favorite food supply of the monarch butterfly. Prized as a native Pennsylvania plant, the perennial also attracts butterflies and native bees, the busy pollinators upon which all gardeners depend.
Like many of his fellow green thumbers, Tom grew up gardening, and finding a retirement community with gardening keeps him connected to a life-long activity. He tended gardens of varying sizes at nearly every place he and Bunny lived. Being able to continue to garden, in their patio beds, containers, and the Back Ache-ers, is one of the couple’s favorite things about life at Pine Run.
“Gardening is for everybody,” Tom said. “It’s good exercise, the food you grow is better for you and better tasting, and it’s enjoyable. You can’t beat it.”