March is when most garden lovers at Asbury Solomons begin staking out their seasonal harvest. By late summer, many will no doubt be wondering why on earth they planted all those tomatoes and zucchini. But their collective efforts will still pale in comparison to Asbury's reigning gardener - Marcella Hayes.
Marcella grew up on a farm in Southern Virginia, and gardening is in her blood. At age 87, she has two plots in the campus's communal garden area and grows a list of vegetables that might exhaust gardeners half her age – okra, spring and fall crops of peas and lettuce, tomatoes, sweet and Yukon gold potatoes, eggplant, collards, raspberries and strawberries. The list goes on.
“I try to have something growing year-round,” says Marcella, who also has a 75-foot flower garden behind her Cottage home. On top of that, two days a week she volunteers at a historic plantation tending their gardens. “I love the fact that I’m getting things that haven’t been sprayed or messed with in anyway, that are fresh out of the garden," she says. "People accuse me of being in the garden all the time, but if you have a bug, you need to know about it!”
Marcella and her husband were among the first residents of Asbury Solomons, and she credits gardening with many of the friendships she has formed. The garden club meets monthly from February to October, and all year long, members share plants and recipes, she says.
At Asbury Solomons, residents put excess produce in baskets in the community’s main lobby with a box where people can donate money for toward Asbury Solomons’ Benevolent Care Fund. The Fund offers financial support to residents who have outlived their resources through no fault of their own.
Besides enjoying her own time in the garden, she likes to see people bring their grandchildren to their plots. “Some children just love it,” she says. “They’re out there digging up potatoes and looking for earthworms.”
It’s clear that she loves it, too.