Sunday Seniors: Flowers and Friendship Blossom in Hanover Gardens

  • Larry Hopkins and Jean Nolan stand by a flower bed that they planted at Summer Park Residences in Hanover. (Jodi Austin photograph)

  • Flower bloom in the gardens at the Summer Park Residences in Hanover. (Jodi Austin photograph)

  • Flower bloom in the gardens at the Summer Park Residences in Hanover. (Jodi Austin photograph)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Saturday, June 09, 2018

Hanover — It was an overcast day when I visited Summer Park Residences to view the gardens kept up by residents.

Despite the clouds, the colors were obvious: bright pinks and purples interlaced with white flowers. Bold and beautiful blooms, they brightened up the beds outside the Housing and Urban Development facility that serves senior citizens and people with disabilities.

But the gardens haven’t always looked like this. Their current state is mostly due to the work of two residents: Jean Nolan and Larry Hopkins, who have led the effort to keep up the gardens.

“When I first came here, we didn’t have gardens,” Nolan recalled. What they did have were a lot of weeds, which Nolan took it upon herself to clear.

A few years later, after Hopkins moved in, the two were speaking outside.

“He said ‘That tree needs pruning.’ So I said prune it,” Nolan, 87, recalled.

Thus began a friendship and partnership that has extended for more than a decade.

“I made the mistake of showing her pictures of perennials I created,” Hopkins, 76, recalled. Once Nolan saw the extent of his talent, she started suggesting more projects for him to take on.

Their planting styles differ.

“Well, Larry’s gardens are designed,” Nolan said. “Mine look like I just threw everything in.”

Walking around the complex, I cannot distinguish between their styles. They’re adding new gardens all the time. Currently, they have about 20 beds.

“They’re all our favorites,” Nolan said when I asked her what her favorite flower was.

“Everything we see is our favorites,” echoed Hopkins.

“Larry and I are addicted to garden shops,” Nolan said. “It’s so therapeutic. Golly, I love being out there.”

They have help from other residents as well. Marcie Anne Kennedy keeps up a large bed in front of her apartment, part of a promise she made to the relatives of the woman who lived there before her.

“When Jean and Larry decided they wanted to garden, it just burst forward,” Kennedy said. “Anything green was planted.”

And not only flowers are growing there.

“I’ve got an herb garden out there that’s for everybody,” Nolan said. Not all of the residents can identify which herbs are which by sight, though. “I left the labels in there this year.”

Other residents maintain hanging pots or smaller beds to grow fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes and strawberries are favorites. There’s also a memory garden put in years ago by the family of a former resident, and a rain garden planted by the Hanover Conservation Commission.

Gardening also is a nearly year-round activity. Sure, the majority of the planting takes place in the spring and the growing in the summer, but in the fall they mulch and in the winter they plot what they want to grow once spring comes around again.

Jodi Austin, 77, moved in about a year and a half ago and was quickly struck by the beauty of the place.

“My interest in gardening is the photography part,” she said. She regularly takes photographs — including the ones that accompany this column — of the gardens in various stages of bloom.

There is some funding for the gardens through the town’s recreation department, but they mostly rely on donations and what the residents contribute themselves.

“Our love for gardening — that’s our motivation,” Hopkins said.

“I’d do it 24 hours, 365 days a year,” Nolan added.

It says a lot that, in the Upper Valley, this level of care and enthusiasm for gardening is common. Carefully curated beds or scattered plots in area are built not only with tools, but with true and genuine love. I’ve never given gardening a shot to see if I have a green thumb. So, yes, while I stop and admire the flowers, I’ve never fully comprehended the work that goes into making them grow.

“It keeps us young and beautiful,” Nolan joked, then looking toward Hopkins, added, “and handsome.”

“It makes me feel good to sit back and see what I’ve done,” Hopkins said.

As they gave me a tour of the space, I walked with Austin as she described the way the flowered trees looked in the spring.

“My joy is capturing them,” Austin said, pointing toward the beds with her camera.

It’s easy to see why.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.