Natural Medicine: The Davis Community Garden and Greenhouse

Horticultural therapy is a “thing” for a reason. Plants can heal.

Sponsored by The Davis Community.

Gary Swart’s mother, a resident at The Davis Community, a nursing facility, hadn’t spoken or made a facial expression in months. But, when Swart wheeled her out to The Davis Community’s garden one late spring day, she looked toward the irises hanging heavy with rich, purple blooms near the walkway, smiled, and spoke one clear word. “Beautiful,” she said.

It was the last word anyone would hear from her before she passed away later that year.

Swart, owner of Pender Pines Nursery in Hampstead, NC, was so impacted by the gift of his mother’s voice that he now invests his time and money in the Davis Community Garden whenever he can.

It’s a series of fortunate events and connections, such as this, that continues to feed the new garden and greenhouse program at Davis.


Davis residents are all smiles at Garden Club meetups.

Julie Rehder, of the locally famous Rehder family, happens to be the Sales and Marketing administrator at The Davis Community. Born into a long line of horticulturists and nurserymen, Rehder knows the value of being in the garden. Her father, Stanley Rehder, was responsible for the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden at Piney Ridge Nature Preserve in Wilmington; and her uncle, Henry Rehder, was a famed Wilmington florist and New York Times-noted gardener and azalea breeder.

While she did not choose to go the horticulture path, her love for and admiration of plants remains.

“Life is just better with plants around,” Rheder said.

When she decided it was time to refurbish the beautiful, but dilapidated greenhouse behind The Davis Community, and the overgrown garden surrounding it, she contacted local gardener and friend, Doris Davis, at Plantation Village. Davis, a long-time member of the Hobby Greenhouse Club in Wilmington, Ikebana master and avid gardener, agreed to help take on the project and to eventually begin hosting garden-related classes for residents.

The Secret Garden

“When Julie told me about the greenhouse,” said Davis, “I knew exactly who to call.”

And, when she did call, lifelong friend, Margaret Shelton, of Shelton Herb Farm, was immediately in.

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“I actually knew about about it already. I’m a pretty good greenhouse spy,” she said. Owning twenty or more greenhouses herself on her farm and nursery near Leland – all overflowing with herbs, perennials and exotics – if there’s a greenhouse in town, Shelton knows about it.

So, Davis, Shelton, and what would soon be an auxiliary board of volunteers, all jumped in and got to work refurbishing what Shelton is fond of calling their own little “Secret Garden”.

The Gifts of Giving

“I’m pretty blown away by all of it,” Shelton said. “So many people have jumped in to support the effort. The greenhouse and garden have been completely transformed in such a short time.”

Volunteers continue to maintain the greenhouse as a work space for residents, clubs and gardeners.

Davis and Shelton host a bi-monthly garden club for the residents of The Davis Community, taking them out to the garden when possible to prune, pick vegetables, or to collect foliage and flowers for art projects. Most residents are in wheel chairs and many have limited motion. But, almost all who attend the garden club manage to keep the plants they plant and the art projects they make on display in their room for months on end.

“When we take them out to the garden we let them handle the plants, smell the herbs in the smelling garden, and eat cherry tomatoes from our tasting garden. And, you can see it in their expressions. Something just changes in them,” Davis said. “They seem to feel genuinely happy.”

“And, that,” says Shelton, “is the power or plants.”

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