Home & Garden

Uncommonwealth: Ashland Terrace garden provides a project for some, refuge for others

Resident Eileen Will, left, and administrator Ric McGee chatted in the cutting garden at Ashland Terrace retirement home in Lexington last week.
Resident Eileen Will, left, and administrator Ric McGee chatted in the cutting garden at Ashland Terrace retirement home in Lexington last week. Herald-Leader

A stone on the walkway in the cutting garden at Ashland Terrace points out a vital garden theme: "An hour in the garden puts life's problems in perspective."

The cutting garden is a project for some of the elderly female residents and a refuge for others. Some of them take to the garden path with running shoes; others with walkers.

The 14-year-old garden in Chevy Chase is open to the public, and not just for viewing. It is run on an honor system, and those who visit are given access to the flowers, cutting implements and plastic water bottles-turned-containers for the freshly clipped bounty, which also includes herbs. Visitors may leave a donation for their clippings in a slot in a decorated mailbox at the garden entrance.

The Ashland Avenue garden is a tiny paradise in the midst of a busy residential neighborhood. Flowers include ageratum, red mountain fleeceflower, lisianthus, obedient plant and sensitive fern. Over an arch hangs a luxuriant moonflower.

"You can actually stand and watch in the evenings as they open," said Ashland Terrace's Ric McGee.

Off-limits to the public, at least for cutting purposes, are roses and vegetables that grow in what is called "Ric's Garden," after McGee, the longtime administrator.

Ashland Terrace has a long history of providing comfort to its residents and the community, beginning in 1849 when it was called Home of the Friendless and served those left destitute by Lexington's cholera outbreaks.

The home was incorporated in 1923 as The Old Ladies' Home and changed its name in 1973 to Ashland Terrace. The current Ashland Terrace building was constructed in 1960, and expanded and renovated in 1999 and 2000.

McGee, who has been director since 1991, wrote a novel in 2006 called Harmony Hall based on life at Ashland Terrace; it was conceived as a group activity with Ashland Terrace residents and is available at Amazon.com.

Carolyn Kemper. 90, used to sit in the garden with her friend Catherine "Kay" Borden, who died Aug. 5. Borden loved to lounge on the bench by the koi pond, Kemper said, and sitting there now helps keep Borden's memory alive.

"It's so powerful," Kemper said, sitting in front of the pond with white crape myrtle blooms tumbling down a nearby bower. "It reminds me of her."

Ashland Terrace resident Jeanne Owens, 82, calls herself "the herb lady." Her special area is the garden's raised herb bed.

"I love to cook, and my mom and I had a herb garden," Owens said. "I can still do it, and it's fun."

Herbs in the garden include rosemary, thyme, parsley, chives and basil.

David Pilcher, who lives nearby, said he visits the garden year-round.

"I go there in the summer, every two or three weeks, in the winter less often," he said. "It means a lot to me not just for the physical beauty and being able to bring some of that home with me, but I love the physical features, the peace. It's an oasis."

Eileen Will, 86, who describes herself as a "longtime rosarian," fights an almost-daily battle against black spot on the garden's rose foliage. Black spot is the biggest thorn in rose-keeping: You can spray, you can pick away the yellow-and-black leaves and still it reappears, a constant taunt to the gardener.

"It's a losing battle, but it drives me crazy to see it," Will said, as the mingled fragrance of the rose varieties hung in the humidity. "If you have roses, that's all you do."

Louise Clark, 91, said that she keeps fit by walking in the garden.

"I walk a lot," Clark said. "I walk through the garden every day."

If you go

Ashland Terrace cutting garden, 475 Ashland Ave.: Large blooms are 50 cents; small blooms are 25 cents; herbs are 25 cents a bundle.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader