Under the guidance of horticultural therapist Pat Czarnecki, residents not only develop a love of gardening, they also reap cognitive, social, and emotional benefits.

Once a month, horticultural therapist Pat Czarnecki visits The New Jewish Home’s Sarah Neuman campus in Westchester, where she runs programs for residents and tends to the facility’s beautiful gardens. Residents are encouraged to join Pat as she maintains the garden’s raised beds and boxes. Among them, every month, is Bill Ehrmanntraut.

Bill, a vibrant man in his 90s, has a passion for gardening that began in his youth and continued through his college years, when he worked for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. After college, he pursued a career in insurance and eventually started his own business. He met his wife, Lauretta, while riding the subway, and they settled in Rockaway, Queens, where they cultivated a beautiful garden together. Bill’s green thumb and love for roses were legendary in his community. As time passed, they moved to White Plains, raised a family, and continued to tend to their garden until Bill’s declining eyesight led them to Sarah Neuman.

In his new home, Bill remained active in gardening activities, and the therapeutic horticulture program has become the highlight of his month. “Bill’s the first one out there with his trowel,” Pat said. “We brought a tray of 8-inch potted geraniums at his request.” Bill hadn’t been feeling well all week, Pat said, but the geraniums cheered him up. “I put the tray in front of him, and just smelling their scent made him so happy.”

Pat is a registered horticultural therapist whose company, GreEn’ergy, has served The New Jewish Home for almost 15 years. She runs educational and therapeutic gardening programs at our Manhattan and Bronx locations as well. Her programs are designed to do more than beautify the grounds and offer an enjoyable program to the residents: there are significant therapeutic aspects as well. Pat works with the administration of each facility to plan customized programs with defined goals and objectives, including strengthening residents’ motor skills and delivering cognitive, social, and emotional benefits.

During her monthly visits to Sarah Neuman, Pat offers two 1-hour interactive programs with hands-on, seasonal activities. Residents create hanging baskets to beautify the gardens, propagate seeds, make floral centerpieces, or prepare bulbs for forcing indoors during the winter. Between the two programs, Pat works outdoors on the main patio, with the help of residents like Bill, to keep the gardens maintained with seasonal plantings.

“Not everyone wants to sit in the programs,” Pat said, “but they’ll be out in the garden, ready to be part of the community.” The raised beds make this activity accessible to everyone, even if they can’t get down in the dirt. “Even someone who’s in a wheelchair can participate. We also have adaptive water caps for bottles for people who can’t lift watering cans.”

Twelve months a year, weather permitting, Pat and her team work in the gardens at Sarah Neuman, and residents like Bill who love to garden join her. “It makes my job more meaningful when I connect with people who love natural beauty. Horticulture therapy is about the people-plant connection. Like plants, people need light and love. They’re stronger when they’re taken care of.”

The New Jewish Home has a proud legacy of empowering older adults to live with purpose and enhanced well-being. We’ve been around since 1848 as one of the nation’s first nursing homes, and now serving older New Yorkers of all backgrounds through a portfolio of health care services, including post-acute care and rehabilitation, skilled nursing, adult day care, assisted living, and at-home care