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Joy of Gardening

Above: A volunteer explains the butterfly habitat and garden at Shell Point Retirement Community to visiting students.


Cultivating roses and orchids is more than a hobby at Shell Point

From individual garden plots and blooming rose gardens to a fully equipped orchid greenhouse and butterfly habitat, opportunities for connecting with nature are endless at Shell Point Retirement Community in Fort Myers.

Located just east of Sanibel Island, Shell Point is home to more than 2,500 senior retirees and offers independent retirement living to skilled nursing in a tropical waterfront setting. Its natural environment and native wildlife make it the ideal place for residents to start new hobbies or explore former passions—such as gardening.

Just ask resident Betty Symes. At 95 years old, she spends many of her days tending to the flower beds placed just outside her assisted living apartment at The Arbor. “Gardening takes me back to my roots,” Symes explains. “I married into the floral business when I was in my 20s and it’s been a passion of mine ever since.”


Having owned and operated a greenhouse and flower shop for most of her life, she took advantage of horticultural programs offered at Shell Point and even initiated some new ones with the help of staff members. Each year, residents at The Arbor assisted living facility celebrate Arbor Day with a program created by Symes. Since the annual celebration began, she has planted an assortment of trees in honor of former residents and her late husband, Jack.

This process of planting, watering and growing a variety of blooms has also become a popular family tradition: Her daughter, Cathy, visits weekly so they can work together creating floral masterpieces for everyone to enjoy. “Gardening is a very therapeutic process,” she notes. “My mom is able to stay active and healthy doing something she’s always loved in the beautiful Florida sunshine. Plus, it brings back such happy memories from our childhood.”

 A Growing Difference

Beyond offering gardening as a hobby, Shell Point has found tremendous success using it to help residents who live in a clinical setting. Studies report there are many health and therapeutic benefits of gardening for senior citizens.

Physical and visual access to nature improves overall mood, reduces stress, combats anxiety and even lowers blood pressure. For people living with memory loss, the benefits of gardening can be even greater.

With that in mind, Shell Point incorporated gardening in each of its assisted living buildings and skilled nursing center. Additionally, gardening is offered in its dedicated memory care center, Connected Living at The Springs. The 21,182-square-foot facility offers residential care for seniors with age-related cognitive diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other various forms of dementia.

Connected Living’s unique layout includes an outdoor space that provides a safe, secure setting for residents to enjoy gardening and soak up the sun. In addition, elevated garden boxes and raised flower pots allow residents to garden with ease and comfort. 

“This is just one great example of how we invest extensive time and care into developing meaningful ways to engage with our residents,” says John Thorp, director of Connected Living. “We design activities to meet their needs that are intended to celebrate the person they are today, while providing them with the freedom to be as active or engaged as they choose, without barriers.”

 Gardener for Life

Jane Johnston has always been a gardener. She and her husband, Ed, are originally from the Midwest and moved from Fort Myers Beach to their Shell Point home in 2013. “One of the reasons we moved here was because I knew I would be able to continue gardening,” she says.

Johnston now serves as chair of the Butterfly Garden Beautification Committee—and she tends her own plot along the river inlet. “I love to grow the colorful flowering plants,” she notes, which attract the fluttering butterflies.

The plot that she tends resembles a miniature fairy garden paradise: A stepping-stone pathway leads through patches of white alyssum, yellow daisies, pink sunpatiens (an impatiens hybrid), deep-purple snapdragons, and red and blue salvia—ending at a bright-yellow bench that invites you to sit a bit.

Emily Rose is the public relations coordinator in the marketing and communications department at Shell Point Retirement Community.