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Residents sneak away to their own ‘secret garden’

Residents of St. Francois Manor in Farmington have a “secret garden” whose significance is known only to the members of the home’s book club.

Until now, that is.

The garden is a place where members of the book club can go to feel as though they are part of one of the books they’ve read, “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The dozen or so men and women in the club look forward to every Tuesday morning, when they gather together with activities director Claire Wroblewski. The reading club gives even residents who no longer see well a chance to enjoy a book through discussion and listening to someone else read aloud.

Wroblewski stimulates discussion about each chapter and finds ways to tie the story to the members’ lives. She also incorporates fun and adventure into the gatherings.

“We read The Secret Garden,” and now we have our own ‘secret garden,'” Wroblewski said. “We have fun ‘sneaking outside to spend time there.”

Of course, it takes some imagination to turn the raised flower garden into the wondrous private garden of the book. However, getting residents to participate in brain stimulating activities such as imaginative thinking is one of the main goals of the reading program.

The small garden sits at wheelchair level on the corner of a cement walkway behind the main building of the nursing home. Marigolds, salvia, and assorted flowers of blue, pink, red and yellow provide festive color against the green grass and tan sidewalk.

It’s a place where residents can don straw hats, pick a few weeds, nurture flowers and enjoy some sunshine.

On Tuesday, seven women from the club spent about a half-hour at their garden, enjoying the sunshine and the cooler weather. They chatted about the books they’ve read, the gardens they’ve tended and the children they raised. Favorite books included Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, although Eula Mae Hoehn said her favorites were, “All of them!”

Discussion frequently returned to the residents’ gardens at their former homes. Several grew flowers, a few had vegetable gardens, and a couple said their favorite spots were rose gardens.

Wroblewski, who hails from New England where chiggers were virtually unheard of, asked the ladies for suggestions on getting rid of the critters that attacked her while she was gardening.

“I went to the drug store and got some medicine,” Wanda Rector said.

“You have to use Campho-Phenique,” two of the women insisted, nodding their heads with authority.

Wroblewski said someone had told her to paint clear nail polish over the places chiggers had dug into the skin because it would smother the chiggers. A few of the women said the story was true.

However, Norma Wehrman had a sure-fire solution to chigger problems.

“I just stay out of the garden,” she said, grinning.

Wehrman, a former children’s magazine illustrator for Reader’s Digest, keeps the group lively. She wields a plastic fly swatter gun when she goes outside. One pull of the trigger ensures sudden death to any insect that comes too close.

And if book club meetings get boring, Wherman pulls the trigger to keep everyone awake and alert. “Whack!”

The group plans to continue reading throughout the summer. In addition to “The Secret Garden,” the group has read “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Next up is ” The Souls of Black Folk” by W. E. Burghardt Du Bois.

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