Passions Grow, Passions Bloom: Cultivating Wellness at Willow Valley Communities

Gardening at Willow Valley Communities.

Among the most popular passions at Willow Valley Communities is gardening. And, Residents here have a wide variety of ways to indulge. Three generous gardens are situated across our sprawling 210-acre campus for Residents to use in a multitude of configurations of their choosing. Willow Valley Communities’ hardworking Grounds Team tills each garden in the spring and plows them in the fall, making them ready for Residents to dig right in.


Whether Residents are experienced pros or novices, gardening is a wonderful way for them to get outside, enjoy nature and each other, and learn new things. Some Residents have been gardening for decades, while others have only started gardening after moving to Willow Valley Communities.


In keeping with our Life Lived Forward philosophy, some Willow Valley Communities Residents take their love of gardening to deeper levels. For example, several Residents from across the country have achieved the distinction of Master Gardener. Master Gardeners are certified in their home state, and the program can take six months to a year to complete and includes a minimum of 40 hours of classroom
training, a score of 80 percent on the final exam, and 50 hours of volunteer service.


In another example, Residents Annabelle Simpson and Susan Kelly worked with the Penn State Extension of the Pennsylvania State University to have one of their gardens certified as an official Pennsylvania Pollinator-Friendly Garden. The stunning garden is well-known for attracting huge numbers of bees, butterflies, insects, and birds, helping our ecosystem to thrive.


Residents are also able to partner their gardening skills with their desires to volunteer and give back to the Lancaster community. With the area’s rich, fertile soil, and the extraspecial care and attention the plants receive, Residents often have an abundance of vegetables and donate them regularly. Throughout the growing season, the Solanco Neighborhood Ministries food bank receives a variety of beans, lettuce, kale, peas, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and much more from Willow Valley Communities Resident gardens. Additionally, every fall, a harvest of hundreds of pounds of sweet potatoes and butternut squash goes to the Lancaster County Food Hub, a community resource for free, nutritious food and gently used clothing. Some Residents maintain gardening plots every year just for this purpose.

Annabelle Simpson and Susan Kelly


Gardening time is couple time for Residents Mike and Susan Ziegler. Sue is an avid gardener, and Mike loves being outdoors supporting her gardening passion at Willow Valley Communities. They both love being together in nature, and Sue is amazed by how magical gardening can be. “It’s just a miracle when the seeds come up,” she says.


Resident Pat Mortensen challenges herself every year by growing something completely different. Once she enjoyed a robust harvest of King Tut Purple Peas, a very rare garden pea said to have been taken out of the tomb of King Tut!


Resident and Master Gardener Angela Booker-White is originally from Virginia, but has lived all over the country. Her interest in gardening grew as she read and learned more about it. In her plot at Spring Run, Angela grows all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and flowers and always tries something new. She has the most success with seeds she purchases from the dollar store!


Angela has also learned how gardening can help during challenging times. She is grateful to her garden, as well as to her fellow Willow Valley Communities gardeners, for helping her during the difficult time of her husband’s unexpected passing. Gardeners, and she doesn’t know exactly who, would come and help by doing extra work around her plot.


“Residents just came in and helped,” Angela says. “Weeding, cutting, trimming, harvesting — whatever work needed to be done. That’s the way Residents are here at Willow Valley Communities: very supportive.”
Resident Keith Yoder, who coordinates the Spring Run Garden, is not at all surprised by the variety of gardeners at Willow Valley Communities or by the reasons they enjoy the activity so much. He agrees that gardening is definitely a hobby that enhances well-being. Though he’s known this himself for years, he refers to an article put out by CNBC that states how gardening can add years to your life.


“And life to your years,” Keith adds. “Gardening gets you into nature. It’s good exercise for your body and your mind — plus, you get to eat what you grow!”

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