The Old-Fashioned Way

[Photo: A well-maintained garden]
Photo by Benjamin Brink of The Oregonian

These days it seems every time you turn left or even right you're sure to bump into someone or something "going green."

Green tea. Green laundry detergent. Green building. Even the Boston Celtics are on a pretty good roll.

But the folks at Kirkland Union Manor in southeast Portland, Oregon are going green the old- fashioned way. They're gardening.

Kirkland Union Manor is a 281-unit complex 90 percent of whose residents are non-English speakers. The first high-rise was sponsored by the Union Labor Retirement Association of Portland in 1980 using funds from HUD's Section 202 supportive housing for the low income elderly program. Under the competitive program, non-profit organizations receive funding both to build and to subsidize senior housing so that it's affordable to those on low and fixed incomes. HUD has funded more than 80 Section 202 complexes in Oregon.

It opened its first garden for residents - a 50' by 120' plot – with construction of first of three towers. The second – 40' by 80' - came 15 years later with construction of the third high-
But the demand for tillable soil still out paces the supply and, Benjamin Brink of The Oregonian wrote recently, there is an up to two-year waiting list of residents hoping for one of the nearly 60, 9' by 10' parcels.

Most of the gardeners visit their plots at least twice a day. For lots of reasons. Michael Shabaydakov, 83 and originally from Siberia, told Brink he gardens because it gives him something to do. Maria Martynov, 78, said she'd had a big garden back in The Ukraine. Pavel Prantsevich, 85, explained it gives him a chance to raise the favorite foods he enjoyed in Belarus –tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and dill. Zhi Qiang Hu and his wife Yan Huang from China, reported Brink, "look at the garden like an extension of their Tai Chi class. They're always stretching and reaching."

And then there is the simply therapeutic, even transformative power of helping things grow. "An older woman -- in a dress that hits well below the knees, a colorful head scarf and casual house shoes -- heads to the gate leading into the beds," observed Brink." Her walker is too wide to fit along the narrow walkways between garden plots so it gets left at the gate. As she steps into the garden, it's as if the plants breathe energy into her; her body straightens as she steps away from the walker and heads to her plot."

The residents, says Greg Franks, administrator of Kirkland Union Manor, do almost all of the work to make their gardens grow. Every couple of years, he told Brink "management brings in new topsoil, and at the end of each year they make sure everything is cleared off, but other than that it's all up to the individual gardeners."

"Time spent among the vegetables," Brink concluded, "nurtures the gardener as well as the garden." And, in this new-fangled age of green, green and more green, that's a very old-fashioned but, probably, still the among the very best reasons to "go green."


Read Mr. Brink's full story at


Content Archived: December 23, 2013