Gardening Again

A gray-haired man wearing overalls and glasses sits beside a raised salad table, and a black-haired woman stands behind him, wearing a blue T-shirt, with her hand on his shoulder.

Nursing Home Resident Grows Flowers, Vegetables, Herbs

Story by Leah Barbour  • Photos by Kevin Hudson

As Jimmy Henry’s health began to decline, his wife, Shirley, wanted him to remain comfortable, safe, and happy. When the time came for Jimmy to enter a nursing home, Shirley was determined to stay right by his side, so she went with him.

She remembers being immediately impressed with the staff and the cleanliness of Jasper General Hospital and Nursing Home, but Jimmy was uneasy. The longtime carpenter, groundskeeper, and home gardener was anxious about the ferns on either side of the entrance doors—the plants were dying.

“He was worried about the ferns right off because they weren’t getting watered,” Shirley explains. “Jimmy wanted to do something about it. He wanted an Extension agent to come out here and check these ferns.”

Before he came to the nursing home, Jimmy had worked with the Mississippi State University Extension Service to control weeds and pests in his home garden. And the couple’s granddaughter Jessica had participated in the MSU Extension 4-H youth development livestock program as a child.

Jimmy knew right away that the local Extension agent could offer advice and insight to help save the sickly ferns. Extension had helped him in years past with his peas, corn, okra, and squash, so Jimmy figured his local Extension agent, whoever it was, would know just what to do.

The couple was happy when Kelby King showed up.

“I didn’t know who it was going to be, and Jimmy didn’t know, and then, when we met here, Kelby figured out who I was and reminded us of all those years that he showed livestock with Jessica in 4-H,” Shirley says. “We’ve known him almost his whole life.”

For King, becoming part of the Extension family was the plan after he spent 15 years in 4-H. He went to MSU after high school and graduated cum laude in 2015 with his bachelor’s degree in agricultural information science with a concentration in leadership.

King landed a position with Extension in a neighboring county but, in 2016, returned to his native Jasper County as the local Extension agent. He delivers research-based information and programs not only in 4-H, but also in agriculture, natural resources, family and consumer sciences, and government and community development.

In mid-September 2017, King received Jimmy’s call.

“Mr. Jimmy was worried about those ferns; he called me, and I came. Three of my great-grandmothers went through this same nursing home, so I knew how things worked there,” King explains. “When I got there to see those ferns, we figured out that I grew up three houses down from them. And when I saw the salad tables were empty, we got to work on that, too.”

The salad tables, which are raised gardening beds, at the nursing home were originally donated by Artis Ford, former cohost and managing editor of Extension’s weekly TV show, Farmweek, says Becky Ulmer, the nursing home administrator.

King took the ferns with him to the local Extension office, where he replanted them and watered them until they regained their health and vigor. When King returned the ferns to the nursing home, he also brought collard greens and cabbages for the salad tables, which are several inches deeper than some other tables and provide better support for the deeper root systems of vegetables.

“For Kelby, he’s been involved here for years, but this is the first time Extension has been involved. We appreciate it; there’s no way these plants and flowers would be so successful without him,” Ulmer says. “Now, Mr. Jimmy has taken over the deck. Gardening has really helped him settle in and feel needed here. The residents enjoy spending time there.”

Soon after Jimmy began tending his salad table garden, he realized he wanted more produce. He planted lettuce, broccoli, onions, and mustard and turnip greens, and, for a spark of color, he added pansies. He loves the colors and is staying active.

“All I’ve really done is watch the plants grow. I just keep them watered and give Miracle Grow to them, and I watch them grow. It’s been fun. Kelby has helped me a whole lot. He’s brought me several plants and helped me get a lot of stuff done. He’s given me tips on things like feeding and potting soil. It’s all growing, and I’ll keep it growing.”

Jimmy Henry, Gardener

Shirley says Jimmy is maintaining his quality of life by taking care of his plants and sharing his harvest and his flowers with other residents.

“When he gets out there, he’s in his scooter, and he has his watering can. He waters his plants and rolls down to the water hydrant, fills his can, and then rolls back and waters his flowers,” Shirley explains. “He loves it.”

And whatever happened to those sickly ferns that first inspired Jimmy to call Extension?

“Those ferns—Jimmy’s gotten himself a little blue container, and he sits and puts his water cans on one part of the scooter, fills it full of water, and waters his ferns. It takes exactly one and a half of the container to water each fern,” Shirley explains. “He’s very proud of them.”

In other words, the ferns are thriving and are providing a friendly welcome to residents, guests, and employees.


DIY: Build Your Own Salad Table

A metal watering can sits among green onions on a salad table.

Salad tables, sometimes called kitchen tables, are raised beds for gardening. These tables can give anybody, even people with limited mobility, a space to grow their own produce.

Salad tables can be built with any 6-inch by 1-inch, rot-resistant wood, such as white oak, treated pine, cedar, or cypress. Cypress may be the perfect choice because it is inexpensive and repels insects.

The tables should be no wider than 36 inches because appropriate liners, such as fiberglass screen or hardware cloth, are generally 36 inches wide.

Extension’s DIY directions will make a salad table that is 36 inches long by 30 inches wide with 32 inches of ground clearance.

For more details, as well as suggestions on other table size options, visit “How to Build a Salad Table.”



MSU Extension Service
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