(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 3, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Looking back over the last three years, I don't remember a time when we walked into the nursing home and didn't see potted flowers adorning tables, counters and windowsills. Daffodils, hyacinths, lilies, amaryllis, poinsettias--there are always flowers set about to brighten the atmosphere. A couple weeks ago we headed outside to visit on the patio when the weather was particularly sunny, and as we passed some hyacinths on the windowsill in the dining area I mentioned to Grandpa that nothing says spring like the fragrance of hyacinths. He agreed, then grumbled that it's a shame so many pretty flowers end up in the trash. Until that moment, I never considered what becomes of those beautiful blooms we enjoy when we visit. A few days later we were at the nursing home again and those same hyacinths were in the windowsill, blooms spent and looking fairly droopy. As we passed, Grandpa said "Yep, they're about done for. Someone will throw them away soon." While we chatted on the patio I thought about how many plants they must throw out over the course of a year. What a sad end for something that brings color and joy to the people who live there. It briefly crossed my mind that I could volunteer to replant them outside at the nursing home, but they have a landscape company that does a fabulous job of keeping the grounds maintained, with expertly manicured flowerbeds all around. Those guys might be fairly irritated to find a random daffodil or lily just cropping up next spring!
We asked the nurse if they really do just throw the plants away after the flowers have finished blooming. She confirmed that they do and that the hyacinths in the windowsill would actually be meeting their demise that very day, so I asked if we could take them instead. As we headed for the door with 2 pots of wilted, rescued hyacinths a slightly suspicious little lady wheeled up and asked what we planned to do with them. I explained to her that I was sad to think of them being thrown out with the garbage, so I was going to plant them in my yard and give them a chance to bloom again next spring. She decided that was a fine idea and told me she would let Helen know where they went. Turns out these particular hyacinths had been a gift to her roommate Helen, who happens to be 105 years old and went to the hospital a couple days prior. Upon hearing this I thought maybe we should leave the plants until Helen's return and make sure she approved of our taking them, but her roommate insisted that she would be happy to know that they found a good home and didn't get tossed out by the nurses.
I was back at the nursing home hanging out with Grandpa over the weekend, and Helen's roommate approached me, not suspicious as before, but this time with purpose. "By the way," she told me, "I'm keeping an eye on what they try to throw away and I'll save them for you from now on." She went on to say that gardening is what she misses most about home and by keeping an eye out for things for me to replant she can feel like she's being a part of a garden. What a great deal: my garden expands, the lady who misses her garden feels a connection, and Helen's hyacinths have a second chance.
If you find yourself with an hour to spare, drop into your local nursing home and offer to rescue doomed plants--share a smile and a few minutes of conversation with some of the residents. Chances are you'll brighten someone's day!
Thanks to chrisw99 for the hyacinth photos from DG PlantFiles.