Going Green: Concordia Residents "Blossom" in the Garden

March 20, 2012

Happy first day of spring! In celebration of the changing season, below is a story that originally ran in Faith in Caring magazine last year. Concordia Lutheran Ministries has many resident gardeners who look forward to this time of year, and this story looks at just a few of them. Enjoy - feel free to comment below!

Spring is a time of new beginnings, and there isn't a better metaphor for that than the emergence of buds on the tree limbs and flowers "springing" from the earth.

Gardening is a special hobby for many people. Unlike collecting coins or listening to jazz, it's a pastime that requires patience, know-how and more than a little bit of divine intervention. It's also a fantastic hobby if you're looking for an activity that? ahem? bears fruit.

And do you think it's a coincidence that God's original creation of earth was a garden?

Concordia Lutheran Ministries has its fair share of independent living residents who proudly display their green thumbs this time of year.

A tangible, therapeutic hobby

Many Italians lay claim to having some of the finest cuisine in the world. Most of those recipes start with one thing: fresh herbs. Just ask Angelo Amato, an independent living resident at Concordia of the South Hills (CSH) who uses his fresh-grown spices regularly in his cooking.

Born in Italy, Angelo came to the U.S. in 1962 when he was relocated through his job. A skilled chemical engineer, his work took him all over the country. He and his wife Cristina (who passed away in 2008) came to CSH in 2002.

Angelo, due in part to the mechanical nature of his job, has always found solace in the autonomy of gardening since moving to this country.

"It's a great outlet," Angelo said in his thick Italian accent. "There's something therapeutic about the open air and how you can see your success. It's tangible."

He's not alone in his passion for planting at CSH either. At any given time during the growing season, he can be found with five or six others who help care for the four 36-square-feet garden boxes outside the building.

Among the variety of plants which include tomatoes, lettuce, basil and parsley Angelo is particularly proud of the eggplant the group yields each year. Eggplant, he said, is difficult in that it needs lots of water, the right soil, distance between the seeds and most importantly, a new location from year to year.

While he doesn't have any secret tricks to help stimulate growth, he said it's clear that the amount of carbon dioxide he and his gardening friends provide the plants is helping.

"We don't talk to the plants like some do," Angelo said with a chuckle, "but we talk among the plants? and we talk a lot."

Staying active and involved

The generation who grew up during the Great Depression learned lessons that are again serving people well in our current economy thriftiness, good stewardship and resourcefulness.

For Haven II resident Pete Yacko, that era also taught him the importance of gardening.

"We maintained a garden to supplement our needs back then," he said. "I guess I just learned to enjoy it and kept on after we didn't really have to."

Today, planting and maintaining a garden is automatic for Pete, who moved to Concordia in 2008. Part of what he enjoys is getting outside, enjoying the fresh air and receiving a return on his work. The other part is the opportunity to stay involved.

A retired Christian Missionary Alliance builder, Pete takes every chance he can to deter idle hands.

"Gardening is one of the best hobbies for staying active," he said. "(The garden) takes constant care, time from your daily schedule? it's great to be in a place that encourages it."

The plants Pete helps maintain include beans, tomatoes, raspberries, leaf lettuce, green onions and potatoes he grew close to 500 lbs. last year.

"My back gives me a little trouble and I can't do quite as much (gardening) as I used to, but I love it. I only wish I would have moved here 10 years ago."

New growth, new friends

When Alberta "Bert" Vrboncic and her husband Bill moved to Haven I in March 2010, one of the first things to strike them was the beauty of the outdoor surroundings. A gardener for her entire life, Bert saw possibilities right away.

That first year, Bert and a group of other Haven I residents had an extremely plentiful garden. In addition to the flowers the group planted to beautify the building, they grew and gave away green beans, peas, carrots, herbs and corn to other residents.

Getting such a bountiful crop was a thrill, but the real treat for Bert was making a few new friends.

"Since I was new to the building last year, gardening was a great way to make contact with people I didn't know," she said.

In addition to gardening, Bert has met others through some of her other hobbies: playing cards, cooking and baking.

For many people, one reason for considering a move to a retirement community is to have the time and energy to do the activities they didn't have time to do while maintaining a house. For more information on the worry-free retirement living options at Concordia (South Hills or Cabot), visit

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