John Jernigan stands in front of his cabbages in the bucket garden at Cedar Hill Assisted Living where he has grown produce as a resident for four years. His cabbages weigh up to 17 pounds and provide slaw for the whole facility.  --Ashley Johnson
John Jernigan stands in front of his cabbages in the bucket garden at Cedar Hill Assisted Living where he has grown produce as a resident for four years. His cabbages weigh up to 17 pounds and provide slaw for the whole facility.
-- Ashley Johnson

Assisted living residents, families find a connection to their roots

Published 3:33pm Tuesday, July 2, 2013

“It’s the largest cabbage in the nation,” said John Jernigan, the resident bucket garden farmer at Cedar Hill Assisted Living Home. “How do I know? I just know.”

Jernigan walks over to several of his tomato bucket plants and finds a ripe one, “its squeezed in between the vines,” he said. His largest cabbage this season weighed in at 17 pounds and he, like several others in the home, is staying young by returning back to his roots and what he loves.

In addition to cabbage, Jernigan, 95, is growing jalapeño peppers, sweet peppers, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes. He has tended to the bucket garden, made from cow feed buckets, in the courtyard area of Cedar Hill for the past four years.

“Last year I had 29 tomato plants and I picked tomatoes until I was exhausted,” Jernigan said. “The kitchen didn’t know what to do with all of them. I think they ate tomatoes for the whole summer.”

Jernigan yielded plenty of zucchini crops last year, to which Cedar Hill employees said made for a delicious treat.

“We picked all of the zucchini and the girls in the kitchen used it to bake zucchini bread,” Dianne King said, who helped get Jernigan the buckets and supplies to start his garden. “Mr. Jernigan had a tray of the bread and would take it around and share with everybody. It was delicious.”

King said Jernigan’s cherry tomato plants are a source of fun for all of the residents as well. They wander out to the bucket garden, she said, and pop cherry tomatoes in their mouths for a snack, eating them on the spot. The kitchen will fry the green tomatoes from the garden and his 17-pound cabbage made 17 pounds of slaw.

“This just gives me something to do, I’m 95 and I can’t see, so to tell you the truth, I just enjoy doing this,” Jernigan said of his hobby.

Jernigan used to grow small samplings of produce at his home before Cedar Hill and like him, other residents are bringing their past times to the campus to make it more colorful.

Patricia McDonald tends to her roses every day; watering them, pruning them and giving them out to people who need them.

Her biggest obstacle is collecting bud vases throughout the facility so that she can arrange the roses for others.

“They will die and shed if you don’t pick them, so that’s why I pick so many and try to give them out to people at Cedar Hill who can’t get out to see them,” McDonald said. “I fill up the bud vases and bring them to people who are sick or new.”

McDonald said she gardens because it is something she has always done and loves to do. Several years ago a Cedar Hill employee bought her some bushes to work on in the courtyard, but she had no idea the garden would grow like it has.

“ They went and bought about 25 plants. They didn’t think it would be something I would stick with,” McDonald said and jokes that “now there are 70 plants they have bought for me and I told them, ‘No more — that’s as much as I can handle.’”

Carol Bolen with Cedar Hill said McDonald even encourages other residents to buy a rose bush for the garden, complete with a nameplate.

“Then even when they have moved or have gone their rose bushes will still be there in their memory,” Bolen said.

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