Woman puts passion for gardening to work at VA

Woman puts passion for gardening to work at VA

DANVILLE – As an engineering technician at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, Tonya Moore typically works on projects such as new roofs and water-line repairs.

That makes her most recent project, creating a healing garden for residents with dementia, quite different.

The work not only was a good fit professionally, it was also a good fit personally. The design, bidding and supervision of construction for the garden, which is between Buildings 101 (Community Living Center) and 125 (Patient Library) on the VA grounds has been sheer joy, she said.

"Gardening is my passion. I just wanted to put as much in this space as I could, so I just went crazy," Moore said. "I had this long, skinny area with nothing but blank walls, some chain-link fence and a low spot to start with."

Moore researched recreational areas for Alzheimer's and dementia patients in order to create an attractive, safe environment.

The garden features a long meandering walk of exposed aggregate, which contrasts with smooth concrete entrances to a gazebo, patio and pergola where veterans can sit in areas that filter but don't block out sunlight. Also, for those that are more active, Moore added a miniature basketball court, shuffleboard court and putting green.

"I knew that the residents love to watch the wildlife, so we dedicated a corner to bird feeders, squirrel feeders, butterfly bushes and water features," Moore said.

The garden was made possible by a $244,000 federal grant along with donations by service organizations and individuals. It features a solar-powered water feature as well as lampposts for energy conservation.

"There is a lot of money spent out here on infrastructure, so it's kind of hard to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony when the usual jobs are completed," Moore said with a laugh. "But with the garden, you can see how it will benefit the veterans. I am so happy for them."

A series of raised flower beds will allow veterans an opportunity to do a little gardening themselves. The decorative fencing gives a rich, warm feel to the space while providing a safe, outdoor experience for the residents.

Moore selected the safe plants, nothing with possibly poisonous berries or thorns, she said.

"While we were in the construction phase, residents kept a watchful eye on the project and would knock on the windows and wave at everyone," Moore said. "The day the plants came in, it was the patients who let the staff know they had arrived."

Dr. Usha Paruchuri, chief of geriatrics, is very excited for her patients.

"This is going to be so wonderful, especially for residents with dementia. They like to walk a lot. This will offer an opportunity to do that and more," Paruchuri said.

She wrote the grant for the project two years ago, but finding a funding source had been difficult.

"This area will also be able to be used by recreation therapists," Paruchuri said. "We have things they don't have."

It will also be a place for veterans and their families to sit and visit.

Though the garden indicates winter is coming, it is expected to be profuse with blooms in the spring, said Todd Schultz of Schultz Nursery who worked with Moore on the plants.

"For everything you see now, there will be hundreds more in the spring and summer," he said. "We even did the roof gardens so residents can look in any direction and see something in bloom."

"That gives everyone something to look forward to," Moore said.

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