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Cultivating memories and friends in the garden

In November 2020, Tom and Becky von Fischer moved to Folkestone, in Wayzata, Minn. Little did they know the impact they would have on the community and vice versa.
 

How it all began

When they started looking for a senior living community, Becky and Tom did not have Folkestone on their list. But they had a few friends living there who encouraged them to check it out. Becky shares, “The first time we visited, we knew it was clear. The community is wonderful … After we moved in, we were surprised by how quickly opportunities came up for both of us. We’ve experienced continual confirmation that this was the right decision to make.” One such opportunity came from former Life Enrichment Director Danessa Weiss.
 
Aware that Tom had had an award-winning garden in south Minneapolis, Danessa invited Tom to take over the memory care garden. At first, Tom thought he was getting a small portion of the garden, but to his surprise, Danessa was offering him “everything inside the fence.” She told him that it would be such a gift to the community if he could bring the garden back to life. He replied, “No, it would be such a gift to me!”
 

Mr. Green Jeans was born

Tom explains, during the last years of his mother’s life, she lived in a memory care community. Because he had learned his love of gardening from her, he now felt this was a perfect way to honor and feel connected to her.
 
But as he was thinking about his mother and others in memory care, he realized that his name Tom isn’t very memorable. So, he decided on the nickname Mr. Green Jeans, based on the show Captain Kangaroo, which residents may have grown up watching. He figured that this name would be easier to remember, especially since he is almost always wearing green! Tom also shared that he likes to be goofy and have fun, so a name like Mr. Green Jeans just seemed right.
 

The benefits of the garden

June just so happens to be nationally recognized as Great Outdoors Month and Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. You may think these things don’t go together, but Tom would disagree. He has seen firsthand how being outside in the garden has “brought residents back to life.” “They have a harder time in the winter, but spring brings new energy!” says Tom. (Learn more about how nature can improve memory and concentration here.) In the garden, Mr. Green Jeans tells stories, asks questions and encourages his “BFFs”, as he likes to call the memory care residents, to help whenever they can.
 
Because of his experience with his mother, Tom understands that memory care residents like and respond best to stories, so he makes sure to share lots of them. Tom and Becky are both retired pastors, so they understand the importance of deep connections formed through conversations. The garden has offered a way for Tom to talk with residents about otherwise difficult topics. For example, he shared, “When the frost came, everyone was sad. But we were able to talk together about death and loss. And they understood and connected with the imagery.” And yet, even in the winter months, Mr. Green Jeans finds a way to keep the connections strong and the energy high, by caring for plants on the indoor-lighted flower shelves for residents to enjoy.
 
Tom encourages those around him with the message that “joy is deeper than optimism and hope is more than just being positive.” And Mr. Green Jeans truly brings joy and hope through this beautiful garden.





 

You may also be interested in:

The memory care garden at Folkestone is funded by the PHS Foundation. Interested in learning more about how you can give to other creative projects that benefit PHs residents? Click here.
 
Learn more about Tom and Becky von Fischer on page 4 of our Enriching Lives Spring 2022 edition.

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