University Park garden girls

Two Brookdale Senior Living residents set out to beautify their outdoor space

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Hidden behind a small stone wall at the Brookdale Senior Living facility in University Park is an expansive lawn space. Brookdale residents often take walks on the looping paths, enjoying time outside and getting exercise in for the day.

A little hill sits on the west side of the lawn at 2020 S. Monroe St. A statue of St. Francis stands in a sunny area, and a green sign that reads “Stella’s Garden” can be seen close to the roses.

In her youth, 90-year-old Betty Ridgway was not a gardener. But when she saw the dirt beds on the top of the little hill three years ago, she knew that pops of color needed to be brought in to the area.

“I don’t know anything about gardening,” she joked, “except they look nice. I can’t name you all the flowers yet, but I have the roses down pat.”

For a senior citizen, a small hill can feel like a mountain. So Ridgway enlisted the help of her daughter and son-in-law. They bought flowers and grasses and planted them on the top of the hill. Soon, more people were sitting outside to enjoy the new space.

“It’s such a beautiful thing that Betty started,” fellow resident Mary Brady said. “It’s exceptionally nice for us, and it’s used a lot.”

This year, Brady joined in to help Ridgway plan for the garden. The 95-year-old was a frequent gardener in her home state of Illinois.

“I enjoyed gardening from morning `til night,” Brady said.

For Brady, the one drawback is she can’t make it up the hill to get her hands in the dirt herself.

The two ladies call themselves the “Garden Girls,” and they’re already making plans for next year’s garden. On one side of the garden is a stretch of tall, decorative grasses with smaller flowers planted in front of them. As the path continues along the side of the hill, there are three rose bushes, which were a new addition to this year’s garden.

On their own walks through the lawn, Ridgway and Brady will often leave a bucket of water on a nearby bench, hinting that they want someone to take it up the hill to water the plants.

But the hill may soon be conquered, as the Garden Girls are considering adding steps to the garden space next year.

Ridgway named the garden after her mother, Stella, who also enjoyed spending time creating green spaces.

The Garden Girls have started to inspire other Brookdale residents to make their own improvements to the walking area. Soon, the benches along the side of the path had been repaired and received a fresh coat of paint. The lawn space is often used by the living center for special events such as field days and barbecues.

The garden has created an area of comfort for the residents of the senior living center, Brady said.

Ridgway agreed: “It makes you feel good.”

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