Master gardener Linda Kunesh
Master Gardener Linda Kunesh

Linda Kunesh’s late mother was a resident at DuPage Care Center in Wheaton, IL. She likes to keep her memory alive through her work in the 368-bed long-term care facility’s garden area.

Kunesh is a University of Illinois Extension DuPage Master Gardener Team Leader. She works with recreation staff, facility volunteers and volunteers from the extension program to help residents cultivate their own plots in the 12,000-square-foot garden behind the building. In 2022, 55 residents tended to a plot with the help of Kunesh and other volunteers.

“It allows the residents to do as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can and allows the residents to maintain a sense of independence,” said Shauna Berman, MHA, LNHA, assistant administrator at the facility.

Resident gardeners choose what they want to grow; favorites are marigolds and sunflowers, tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers and basil. In 2022, 60 master gardeners helped with weeding, tending the beds and harvesting. Produce and flowers harvested are for the resident gardeners themselves, many of whom share with staff and family.  

The veteran green-thumbs also may donate their produce and flowers to be sold at farmers markets, with the proceeds helping fund an end-of-season luncheon. Excess produce also is donated to the nearby People’s Resource Center Food Pantry. Master Gardeners also plant a cutting garden, known as “Food for the Soul,” and make bouquets for residents.

“Gardening helps to center me,” said Kunesh, who has logged more than 2,500 volunteer hours at the facility.  “I love the planning and doing, the creating and problem-solving, the challenges and learnings. It’s also a major outlet for me to share with others what I know and what I want to learn.”

The garden program at the facility has endured for 30 years, and is funded by the DuPage Care Center Foundation, the facility’s recreation department and donations from local garden clubs and greenhouses.

During the pandemic, when residents were able, volunteers would don full PPE and meet the residents in the garden to tend to their plots, Berman said. When residents were not able to come to the garden, the volunteers arrived to tend to their plots for them.

“Gardening brings great joy to the residents and the staff,” Berman said. “Residents, families and staff spend many hours outside enjoying the weather throughout the year.”