As summer enters full bloom, so to does the Glen Cove Senior Center’s garden. On the center’s back patio, potted plants line the deck’s banister. Their leaves and vines hang over the edge, reaching out toward the wooded slope across the adjacent parking lot. From inside the building, the greens of the garden make the green backdrop of the woods seem less distant.
Denise Romano, a member of the center who manages the committee that maintains the garden, said that because the Senior Center is based in a building in the heart of the city, “we don’t have a great connection to nature.” The garden is a way to achieve that connection.
In the five years since the garden was established, it, like the plants and herbs that comprise it, has grown. Mercedes Morales is the aesthetic director of the garden, and for her, that growth isn’t just about taking on more plants or garden trinkets. In fact, Morales has turned down offers of decorative elephants and other figurines. “It’s so nice to be working with someone who really understands that we don’t want to go overboard,” Carol Waldman, the center’s executive director, said of Morales.
“It’s about creating a beautiful, inviting space.” Morales said, adding that when she goes out to check on the plants, it makes her happy to see magazines left outside, because it means that people have been using the space. Sometimes the garden plays host to impromptu jam sessions, with some members playing guitar and others singing.
In some ways, the garden represents the center’s larger efforts to bring people from different backgrounds together. Morales and Romano try to select plants that represent the different cultures of the people that make use of the center, and to use that as a starting point to share in each others’ heritage.
Celebrating, and more importantly, understanding members’ different cultures is part of what makes the center a welcoming and warm place, in Waldman’s view, and the members fully embrace that ideal. She told a story of a member , a woman who only speaks Farsi, a Persian language from western Iran. “Everybody [at the center] really works to communicate with her. And she’s part of everything we do. When we’re dancing, she’s dancing. When there’s a birthday, she sings the Farsi version of ‘Happy Birthday.”
There’s more than one way to communicate, Waldman said, just like there’s more than one way to use an herb to flavor a dish. “Even though there are herbs that are particular [to certain cultures]” Waldman said, “there are also herbs that everybody has in common.”