Spring Home: Gardening in the golden years
Two area retirees show how digging in to this popular pastime can be a fun and rewarding experience.
Editor's Note: The following originally appeared as the cover story of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's Spring Home magazine, which was included as a free insert in the April 13, 2022 issue of the Tribune. Read the magazine in its entirety HERE online.
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Gardening is active, often hard work, but for two area retirees, it’s a favorite pastime and rewarding part of their post-career years.
Arthur “Dean” Carr, a 78-year-old Height of Land Township resident, took early retirement from his concrete worker position 22 years ago after a car accident. Although he didn’t discover gardening right away, he has been doing it daily in the warmer months since 2010.
“I didn’t like gardening at all when I was growing up,” he laughs, explaining that for him and his siblings, being raised on a farm where his mother had a large vegetable garden, gardening meant chores, including weeding. “It wasn’t fun or relaxing back then, but it is now.”
Carr and his wife, Rosa, a native of Germany, have been married for 55 years. They have a son together who, along with their daughter-in-law and three grandkids, lives in Thief River Falls. The Carrs often entertain family at their five-acre property, which they bought in 1968. In past years, they also hosted many parties for friends.
When they purchased their place, it was heavily overgrown with brush, and so their first endeavor was to clear the grounds before contemplating landscaping.
Today, Arthur Carr loves to grow many varieties of plants and continues to develop the yard areas; there are now multiple seating areas with varied amounts of shade and foliage and different types of tables and chairs. One features handmade patio stones that he crafted – concrete squares that have embossed impressions of different types of leaves and flowers.
“Leaves kept covering the concrete squares as I would make and set them,” Carr says. “And after getting frustrated with how they were messing up my work, I figured I’d just incorporate them and make a design.”
The end product is a unique set of squares that make up the Carrs’ patio, where they have a table and four comfortable chairs ready for al fresco dining.
One of Carr’s favorite plants is the Hosta, which boasts more than 10,000 varieties; approximately 6,000 of these are registered. He is a member of two different Hosta-related clubs, including the American Hosta Society and the Midwest Regional Hosta Society. Through these, he travels to various events and conventions each year, where he meets other gardeners, attends educational seminars, shops at various nurseries, and connects with friends from out of the area. The conventions he has attended have been in Minnesota, Kansas City, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Hostas are his favorite because of their many shapes, sizes and colors, plus they grow well here in Zone 3, he says. They are considered a hardy plant and they thrive in the hot, humid summers. In particular, the varieties called Snake Eyes, Beyond Glory and War Paint are Arthur’s top choices.
In addition, he grows 15 types of peonies, seven versions of hibiscus and zinnias, 10 types of hydrangeas, and many gas plants, various ornamental grasses and trees, and shrubs. Multiple areas of his yard feature Tidal Wave Petunias, a hardy and brightly-colored flower.
Gardens and a greenhouse are also part of Carr’s vast operation, and he has recently begun growing shrub roses. He has also ordered 25 new day lilies that will be added this year. Although weeding is a constant chore that has to be tackled, Rosa assists him in keeping up the property, and, as opposed to his younger days when he would have preferred to be playing with friends versus spending time pulling weeds, he doesn’t mind the upkeep anymore.
“I’m out in the yard gardening every day that I can each year,” he remarks. “I just find it so enjoyable and relaxing.”
His tips for those new to gardening are to never expect huge results immediately and to start small. He also encourages others to design their gardens how they want and not feel they have to match the designs of other gardeners or gardens they’ve seen.
“Choose plants for the zone you live in and go from there. The most important thing is that you like your gardens and they are enjoyable in your opinion; you don’t have to follow the crowd,” he says.
Another local retiree who’s come to love gardening is Marilyn Tinjum, an 83-year-old resident at Long Lake in Detroit Lakes, where she’s lived with her family since 1966. She actively cares for her gardens throughout the year, including the many perennials that dot the property.
Tinjum and her husband are former business owners who owned Detroit Marine and Tinjum Appraisal before retiring. Tinjum also taught home economics for two years in Wahpeton prior to moving to the lakes area.
Like Carr, Tinjum grew up on a farm and helped her parents with the daily chores, which included assisting her mother with a big vegetable garden. Unlike Carr, Tinjum enjoyed this task, and has been a lifelong gardener.
From 1994-2006, she was even a Master Gardener of Becker County, after completing Master Gardening classes at the University of Minnesota.
The Tinjums’ property came with some of the perennials that are still there today, and Tinjum has planted others over the years, including peonies, lilies, many types of shrubs, and a yellow rose shrub that she got from her mother.
At any given time, something is in bloom at the Tinjum house, and she loves the color and visual appeal that the plants bring to the yard. Gardening is also a stress reliever for her, and she finds peace and relaxation by being among her many plants.
Tinjum encourages aspiring gardeners to keep a journal as they design and manage their gardens. This helps track what grew well and what didn’t, and helps develop best practices for upkeep.
Giving the plants water, fertilizer, and regular weeding are keys to success, she advises. Plus, as Carr indicated, choosing plants appropriate for the harsh Minnesota climate is critical.
“Gardening is a peaceful way to spend time,” Tinjum says. “And for me, it is a lifelong activity. I plan to do it as long as I can.”
The health benefits of gardeningGardening is one of the most popular hobbies among people of all ages, and it comes with all sorts of perks for mind and body – especially for older adults.
- It helps keep you fit and active. The labor and exercise involved with starting and maintaining a garden keeps the body moving, utilizing core strength, balance and mobility.
- It’s good for mental health. Scientists have found that spending time outside in a green space, like a garden, creates a sense of well-being known as biophilia. Gardening not only gives a sense of achievement in admiring a job well done, but also keeps the mind occupied, which is good for mental health.
- It reduces stress. Stress is closely tied to mental health, and many studies have shown that gardening is a great way to relax and de-stress. Reduction in stress also improves the body’s immune system, which makes the system better able to fight off viruses and disease.
- It can reduce the risk of auto-immune diseases. Speaking of the immune system, some studies have shown that interacting with garden soil, which is rich in natural bacteria and microorganisms, helps build up an immune response.
- It can reduce the risk of dementia. Studies have shown gardening helps in preventing cognitive decline and dementia. It’s estimated that the risk of dementia falls by one-third in gardeners.
- It lowers blood pressure. Being active and relaxed lowers blood pressure.
- It gives you your vitamin D. Being out in the sunshine provides plenty of vitamin D, a nutrient the body needs to build and maintain healthy bones.
- It can lead to a healthier diet: Fresh fruits and vegetables grown in food gardens end up becoming a healthy part of gardeners’ meals.
- It can reduce loneliness. For many gardeners, the hobby has a social aspect, as they join local gardening clubs or converse and share ideas with other gardeners.
- It’s also healthy for the environment. The more plants that grow, the more carbon dioxide that’s taken in and oxygen given out, helping prevent global warming. Also, growing and eating your own produce reduces your carbon footprint.