Marcia Lantz, 83, trims flowers in her garden plot at Capital Manor on Aug. 13, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When Betty Stewart, 97, moved into Capital Manor with her husband in 2013, they were looking to do less around the home.

“We were ready to stop cooking and doing yard work,” Stewart said.

But when her husband died three years ago, Stewart decided she wanted to start gardening again.

She’s among more than 50 residents of the west Salem senior living community and retirement home who tend a small plot in the onsite community garden. It’s her second year maintaining a raised bed, which was overflowing with ripening tomatoes and lemon cucumbers by early August. 

“It’s such an incentive to walk because we have to water every couple of days in the summer,” she said. Stewart typically comes to the garden daily with a friend, and the pair make the rounds socializing with other gardeners while tending to their plants.

There’s a shelf inside the manor where residents can share their bounty with others, and she’s been harvesting lemon cucumbers to gift fellow residents.

“We take turns putting things on the shelf and this month is my turn,” Stewart said with pride.

Capital Manor has had a garden in some form since 1969, said Marsha McPheeters, 77, who chairs the resident gardening committee.

That year, a greenhouse was built onsite, according to an article in the Manor’s resident newsletter. Much of the current garden space was developed in the past two years, with a new area added in the spring. It’s currently home to an experimental corn patch tended by Robert Michael, 80, who’s seeing how shade from a nearby tree impacts growth on the plot.

“These experienced gardeners are doing a test run,” McPheeters said, gesturing to the towering corn stalks.

Residents pay a $10 annual fee for a plot, which comes with water and mulch supplied by the gardening committee. Some supplies are donated, McPheeters said, and the manor’s resident improvement fund has paid for upgrades.

McPheeters said gardeners look out for each other, with more seasoned gardeners offering newer ones tips. 

One plot is tended by a blind resident. Several have especially tall raised beds to aid residents who can’t bend over.

For Stewart, the garden has been a place of refuge during the Covid pandemic. She enjoys sitting on her walker and chatting as others prune flowers and water tomatoes.

“It’s so much fun to watch things grow and this year has been an eruption,” she said.

Nina Hipperson, 80, waters kale and artichoke plants in her plot at the Capital Manor community garden on Aug. 13, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Nina Hipperson, 80, grows large clusters of kale and tends an artichoke plant that produced 38 artichokes last year. She cooks for herself at home and regularly brings excess produce to the manor kitchen.

“It gives you such a sense of abundance,” she said.

Hipperson has also taken over care of a neighboring flower plot that was tended by a resident who died last December. She refers to it as Thelma’s “memory garden.”

“She would pick flowers when new residents came,” Hipperson said.

Like others, she’s benefitted from the help of more experienced gardeners when planning and tending to her plot.

“You learn so much from each other. There’s a camaraderie, a sharing that happens,” she said.

McPheeters said she enjoys seeing how active residents are in the garden.

“People used to be old when they’re 80 - they’re not anymore!” McPheeters said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241. 

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