Gardening grows community connection

Gardening grows community connection

Pedestrians enjoying the scenic walking path at Good Samaritan Society – Prairie Creek in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will find a pleasant surprise in a colorful garden on the northeast edge of campus.

Joyce Tlustos in her garden.
Joyce Tlustos in her garden.

They might also meet twin home resident, Joyce Tlustos, 87, who spends time each day tending to her extensive array of beautiful plants and flowers.

Joyce, who has a quick wit and fun sense of humor, enjoys chatting and joking with passersby while she’s working in the garden. Her sense of humor is welcome during a time when many may be experiencing stress because of the pandemic.

“It’s been a nice, safe way to socialize,” says Joyce.

This avid gardener says gardening is in her DNA. Anyone who strolls by can see her hard work displayed in the many thriving flowers, perennials, tomatoes, beans, kale and other plants.

Joyce brings a small basket with her as she walks the block or so from her home to the garden, where she spends a lot of her time “deadheading,” weeding and watering to keep everything looking vibrant and healthy.

She has several personal touches that make the garden uniquely hers, including a sign that reads, “Joyce’s test plots.” She also made a cairn that she displays near a decorative fence her late husband made.

A generous spirit

Of course there are challenges in the gardening world, like pesky rabbits, but Joyce takes them on with a smile.

“We were giving the gentlemen a hard time because they fenced their plots sending the rabbits to the ladies’ plots,” laughs Joyce.

Besides rabbits, Joyce also has to look out for bees and jokes that she made a deal with them not to bother her if she doesn’t bother them.

Joyce uses dried flowers and grasses to make framed artwork.
Joyce uses dried flowers and grasses to make framed artwork such as this.

Joyce is generous in sharing her produce with fellow Prairie Creek residents and those walking along the path. She often leaves a basket out with items for the taking.

Besides reaping a harvest of veggies, Joyce also collects various items – like flowers and grasses – to take home and dry so she can use them to create framed artwork. Her creations adorn her home, bringing the beauty of nature indoors. She also displays her art at the assisted living building for residents to enjoy.

A Prairie Creek tradition

The Prairie Creek community garden, which started several years ago, is available to any resident who signs up for a plot.

Nikki Nearman, senior living director, says it provides a way for residents to enjoy the outdoors while also growing and nurturing flowers and vegetables. The colors also provide a beautiful backdrop for those who live nearby or walk the path at Prairie Creek.

Garden plots are tilled at the end of April or early May, and each gardener starts planting after Mother’s Day. Gardening usually finishes up in October when the ground freezes.

Besides the community garden, residents in the assisted living and senior living buildings have access to raised bed gardens.

Nikki says the gardens have been beneficial during the pandemic as an outdoor activity that allows residents to talk at a safe distance with friends and neighbors.

Joyce says the best things about gardening are the camaraderie with other gardeners, being able to plant, seeing the progress and reaping the harvest.

It’s been especially fruitful in her garden since things took off this spring. So with an abundant harvest, “sharing has been the thing to do this year,” Joyce says.

Neighbors are friends at the Good Samaritan Society.

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