Tamae Delaney, a Brannan Park Retirement community resident, tends the Eldergrow garden with the help of instructor Kristin Herrington-Albrecht. MARK KLAAS, Auburn Reporter

Seniors’ therapeutic horticulture takes root in Auburn

Some embrace watching nature grow from seed to sunshiny day.

Others simply don’t have much of a green thumb but enjoy good company.

Regardless of skill and familiarity, seniors at the Brannan Park Retirement community have welcomed a new program that brings them together as they talk, prepare and treat crops harvest-able for the dinner table or manage plants worthy as blossoming companions.

Eldergrow, a Seattle-based startup, teaches and builds relationships with residents through ongoing enrichment classes on horticulture, culinary and garden art.

“Besides just the food, it’s kind of the camaraderie and the sense of community that we build,” said Kristin Herrington-Albrecht, who comes twice a month to the north Auburn retirement facility to lead classes on a variety of topics. “It’s sitting down with someone, breaking bread and preparing food together. … It’s this very instinctual thing that you feel comfortable, you open up, and we start talking and reminiscing. Those are always my favorite classes.”

Brannan Park is one of six South Sound retirement communities that Herrington-Albrecht visits to show seniors the beauty and effect of healthy, home-grown food and interesting plants. Participants come away more knowledgeable about gardening. Many especially enjoy what they discover in the popular culinary class.

“Every culinary class we’ve done, new residents have joined us,” Herrington-Albrecht said.

Classes are educational and interactive. Seniors come to a roundtable to see how produce is prepped for a meal, for instance, or participate in an engaging arts project.

“It was fun,” said Audrey Franson. “It’s fun to see what other people do. They have a variety of things to do here.”

On Monday, it was all about chard, mint and other ingredients that helped Herrington-Albrecht and her pupils assemble a fresh-fruit-enhanced Christmas tree salad.

“We enjoy the class, and we enjoy this young lady,” said Dorene Fox, 84, who has lived in Auburn for 65 years and avidly joins Herrington-Albrecht to learn more about the garden.

Brannan Park launched the pioneering, therapeutic horticulture program this year through a garden partnership with Village Concepts, a third- generation, family-owned business that helps seniors thrive in retirement and in assisted living communities throughout the state.

As Stuart Brown, Village Concepts chief operating officer, explains: “Residents will be able to experience the satisfaction of creating and nurturing their own garden, just like at home, while attending classes and enjoying the fruits of their labor complete with arts and cooking activities.”

Residents enjoy the benefits of sensory stimulation and connecting with nature while they choose plants and herbs to transplant into the therapy garden, which occupies a space by the kitchen and dining area. Gardening also brings seniors back to simpler days.

“We try to bring nature indoors, for one,” Herrington-Albrecht said. “And because a lot of people were gardeners in the past, we want to provide them past times when they had a lot of fond memories. … A lot of people talk about gardening with families … and growing up helping their parents.”

The class also offers a chance to soak in the soil.

“We do want them to get their hands in the dirt,” Herrington-Albrecht said. ‘That’s a huge component.”