Sonoma’s Vintage House creates a community garden for seniors, a place of participation to fight off isolation

Here is the Garden Park at the Sonoma Ecology Center in Sonoma, CA. It is sponsored and coordinated by Vintage House, a center for seniors in the town of Sonoma. Photo courtesy of Vintage House, Sonoma, CA.

Good Housekeeping reported as well as AARP among others that the health benefits of gardening is vital. This is something Vintage House of Sonoma is eager to provide for seniors through its collaborative Sonoma Garden Park project. ​​

​​The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had upon many people is overwhelming. Yet for elderly, the sense of isolation and confinement has only magnified since COVID.

Garden Park program coordinator Katie DeJongh, with staff and volunteers, along with Vintage House board member Bonnie Walner. It was Walner who envision the idea of a community garden space for seniors as a way to overcome isolation, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Vintage House of Sonoma, CA.

​​“This is why I really pushed to have a garden made available to our seniors,” said Vintage House board of directors member, Bonnie Walner. Her work as a designer and Master Gardener inspired her with the idea of a community garden. ​​Getting the larger community to help is something that Walner has aimed for as COVID-19 continues on

​​​​Gathering materials, work crews, supplies and equipment together is a challenge. Still regardless of the obstacles, Vintage House is committed and optimistic in establishing partnerships in the effort. 

​​​​Sonoma Ecology Center provided the space. “Our mission is to work with our community to identify and lead actions that achieve and sustain ecological health in Sonoma Valley,” said Richard Dale. He serves as Executive Director of the Sonoma Ecology Center. Currently, the Ecology Center partners with five other local and community-based organizations. 

​​​​”Vintage House is grateful to partner with the Sonoma Ecology Center in a direct way to provide a green space for active adults to appreciate the outdoors, said Executive Director, Renee Scott. We want people in the community to consider volunteering and also to have an opportunity to meet new people. “​​The social aspects, even with distancing and health safety protocols in place, are in themselves an important element in helping seniors get out of isolation. 

​​Since its inception, the idea of a community garden has been well received. Vintage House has embraced it as Sonoma Garden Park.  ​​“On a cool and sunny October morning in 2020, said Priscilla Call Essert, Bonnie and I sat in the Vintage House garden patch at the ‘Sonoma Garden Park’ and dreamed of a day when seniors would gather in the patch with friends while communing with nature.” Essert was serving as Executive Director at Vintage House when Walner brought up the idea. 

​​​​Essert went on to explain. “Many seniors downsize their homes and lose an outdoor space.  The Vintage House patch fills the void!  It is magical,” she exclaimed!  “The patch” as some refer to it at the Garden Park at the Sonoma Ecology Center is and intends to be an ongoing project for Vintage House.  

“The purpose essentially is to build community among our seniors as well as in the broader community,” said Vintage House program coordinator Katie DeJongh.  ​​“A team of volunteers grows and maintains the garden, under the guidance of Bonnie and myself, added DeJongh. During the pandemic, the garden evolved and continues to evolve as a safe place for our seniors to gather. This is also in regards to the capacity of volunteering, visiting and interacting with each other, reducing the isolation that so many were experiencing.” 

​​​​In addition to the dispelling of isolation and loneliness, being out in a garden, some studies say decreases high blood pressure and anxiety. And with winter approaching being out in a garden provides not only a natural source of vitamin D, but is an organic dose of endorphins.  “Our goal is to plant native and drought-friendly plants moving forward, said DeJongh and to find experts who can advise our team in this area.”

​​Anticipating the potential and expansion of the Garden Park project, Walner said, I just want the public to know a community garden is there and that The Vintage House community of staff and volunteers tends to it. People who attend and join in even can take home veggies,” Walner added.  To inquire about this and other programs, reach out to Vintage House and visit the website.  To learn more about the Sonoma Garden Park project, visit the website. Or, call Vintage House at 707-996-0311.