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Plant a tree, water a flower, trim a perennial and change the world

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday April 11, 2021

Adm. William McRaven, a retired four-star and Navy SEAL – and retired Chancellor of the University of Texas System – used his commencement speech to the UT-Austin Class of 2014, to advise, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” 

McRaven, who directed the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, continued, “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and will encourage you to do another…If, by chance, you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made. That you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

One of my friends, also retired military but as well a wag and much older than Admiral McRaven, said to me, “I’m not looking for the promise that ‘tomorrow will be better;’ a ‘tomorrow’ as good as today is good enough for me.”  Though said in jest, my friend was expressing the important role that “hope for tomorrow” plays in each of our lives.

Psychologist Viktor Frankl, writing about the worst days of WWII, tells us in Man’s Search for Meaning that those most likely to endure severe hardship and suffering were those with rich inner lives and plans for a future with friends and family – in kitchen-table English, those with faith and a “to-do” list.

Again, we find evidence that “hope for tomorrow” plays an important role advancing an upbeat, can-do spirit in the lives of most of us, including those in later life  – what many who study these things call “positive” or “successful” aging.

These thoughts came to mind last Tuesday as I was leaving Ginger Cove, one of the region’s premier continuing care retirement communities that is home to 350± residents.

It was a beautiful Spring day.  A little nippy for this time of the year, but not too cold for more than 70 residents and staff who gathered on the waterfront lawn to celebrate the 15th Annual Daffodil Appreciation Day – an annual renewal symbolized by blooming flowers, greening trees and, off in the distance and down the slope, boating enthusiasts de-winterizing their vessels in preparation for more glorious days on the Bay this Summer.

Located off Riva Road on the banks of Gingerville Creek, Ginger Cove residents enjoy a stimulating community life with a commitment to wellness and preventive medicine that includes many of the amenities you might expect – from a well-stocked library, active bridge clubs and fine arts to water aerobics. bocce ball, croquet and other opportunities to advance social engagement and maintain intellectual and physical fitness. 

Given that social engagement and mental acuity are the best predictors of a healthy, active, and low-stress life, it’s easy to see why Ginger Cove has so many residents who are prime examples of successful aging.

Following welcoming remarks by Residents’ Club president, Bill Kennerly, and Ginger Cove CEO Bill Holman, resident and volunteer curator, Susannah Wolfe, enriched the theme for the day by reading from William Wordsworth’s ode to daffodils:

“I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o’er vales and hills, / When all at once I saw a crowd, / A host of golden daffodils; / Beside the lake, beneath the trees, / Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

So true, I thought.  Indeed, as I viewed hundreds of Daffodils in the gardens, I could see everywhere that contemporary poet Richard Ratliff was right when he observed that “Daffodils are the yellow trumpets of Spring”.

My Daffodil Day visit to Ginger Cove was sparked some months ago by meeting resident Carolyn Gorsuch, a former high school math teacher and now, nearing age 96, a gardener and coordinator of the volunteer curators of Woodland Gardens at Ginger Cove, which includes the Junie Clark Memorial Garden.

So, I was pleased when Gorsuch came to the podium to explain the history of the gardens, beginning in 1993 when residents Junie Clark and his wife Mary Jane moved into Ginger Cove.  The area behind their unit was full of vines, brush and weeds. 

The following spring, she said, “Clark enlisted help to clear out the area, making room to plant daffodils, azaleas, and other shade-loving shrubs, including a young Magnolia tree, which continues to grow – tall, proud and healthy”, as she directed her audience to see the impressive tree by the path down to the dock on Gingerville Creek.

“Today’s curators,” according to Gorsuch, “are just the latest in a line of residents who have brought new life to these banks on Gingerville Creek – planning, purchasing plants and gardening materials, digging holes, planting, weeding, spraying, trimming, protecting against the deer, building garden walkways and sitting patios, positioning garden furniture, and stopping erosion, with advice and counsel from the South River Association Riverkeeper.”

The results are impressive. According to Gorsuch, “Every October, resident volunteers plant 600 new bulbs with many residents also providing financial support.”

“Our spectacular show of bulbs starts in February with the White Snow Drops, then the Blue Giant Chionodoxa.  By April, the center Daffodil garden forms an amazing cloud of yellow, when thousands of Daffodils are in bloom.  In May, with the fading of the Daffodils, the whole garden turns blue as the Spanish Bluebells open.” 

Then she asked, “Do you know that there is something blooming in our garden every day of the year?” 

That was news to me, but it helped me understand why the gardens at Ginger Cove played such a large role in the lives of so many residents during the restrictions on movement that accompanied COVID-19. 

The curator I followed around the gardens said it best: “Gardens are not everyone’s cup of tea – often because they’ve never been exposed to the joys of gardening.  But many of our residents visited our gardens for the first time during the past year’s ‘lockdown’ periods, only to find they really liked the experience and are returning even as restrictions are relaxed.”

As I watched the residents and guests touring the gardens and given all the examples of perennials at Ginger Cove – people and plants that continue to thrive year after year – my thoughts turned to last week’s Easter celebration and to Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation in 1517, who wrote, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime”. 

And certainly, in every Daffodil.

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  1. Barbara Inskeep on April 19, 2021 at 8:36 pm

    I make my bed first thing in the morning…every morning!

    • William Whitehead on April 19, 2021 at 9:44 pm

      prose by any other name would fall short of your Daffodillick adventure Dr. B. What a wonderfully thoughtful verbal vision of the day those who shared theirs with you. Thank you again for bringing the Bonus Years to life through your wanderings.

  2. Sue Sandeen on April 19, 2021 at 11:04 pm

    Does anyone not love daffodils? Thanks for the reminder. Did you see Mary Mater’s Facebook post? She is busy planting something?