There are many pleasurable aspects of my living in the Friends House Retirement Community in Sandy Spring, Md. But the one I especially appreciate is the way fresh flowers appear regularly in unique arrangements for the library and a nook in one corner along the main hallway. I am especially moved by a simple memorial bouquet with a small photo of the former resident beside it on a low table in the entrance foyer. These gifts of natural beauty originate in the greenhouse next to one wing of the independent living apartments and are arranged by our Garden Committee members.
Perhaps, though, the sight that impresses many visitors as well as residents is a long, narrow corridor in the main building named “Flower Alley.” A variety of potted plants and hanging baskets line one side of a brick wall. The opposite wall features an amazing array of artwork created by the “Wellspring Artists,” who are members of our community. Small sculptures produced in the clay work class enhance pots of cacti, philodendrons and begonias. Flower Alley, an area which could have been an institutional-like corridor, instead is a blessing of natural beauty and creativity to residents and visitors alike.
As you turn into Flower Alley, an arresting arrangement always makes me stop to enjoy it. Nestled into a small corner at different times has been a miniature water fountain, bubbling over smooth grey stones and surrounded by tiny figures which its creator called a “fairy garden.” Or there might be a colorful scarf draped beneath a bowl of fresh flowers the exact shade of Madonna blue or orchid as the filmy voile underneath. Sometimes a tasteful wall plaque hangs above the floral arrangement, providing another enriching dimension to the display.
Currently, a brilliant, chalky pink geranium that is reaching toward the row of skylights in the ceiling announces the beginning of Flower Alley. Continuing along the hall are pots of peace lilies, a jewel orchid and “the ordinary garden variety of orchids,” says Lucille Ridlon, who oversees the greenhouse, and begonias, cyclamen, more geraniums – white, cerise, and a peachy pink —interspersed with Boston and asparagus ferns. Clivia, whose salmon-colored petals resemble lilies, stands out among the greenery. Occasionally, startlingly beautiful amaryllis bulbs that bloom velvety red, or white with peppermint stripes are featured.
Lucille and Dipali Sinha, another resident of Friends House, select the plants in the greenhouse for Flower Alley. At present, Jane Blewett, also a member of the Garden Committee, is responsible for feeding and watering all the plants in the Alley (no small task). Other residents have special interests and tend to the geraniums, orchids, begonias, succulents or African violets.
Judicious pruning that results in plant “babies” enables the Garden Committee to have both an ongoing and an annual plant sale that made $1,500 last year.
Having the opportunity to do gardening indoors and create original floral arrangements provides our green thumb residents with the deepest satisfaction of remaining in contact with the earth and its natural bounties. At the same time, everyone who passes through Flower Alley savors a touch of spring within our walls.