LAKEWOOD – Physician assistant Connie Petine said she cried when she found out that fellow members of the Four Seasons Garden Club would take care of her vegetable patch since she had little time for weeding and watering during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Petine, 60, works for an offshoot of the Visiting Nurse Association and was working 50- to 60-hour weeks on the frontlines, performing in-car COVID-19 testing on nurses in West Orange, Asbury Park and Freehold.
“Taking care of my garden is such an act of human kindness,” she said from a designated common area of the adult community, where Garden Club members pay $10 annually for a 4’ x 14’ patch.
“The other members wanted to feed our souls, and it looks beautiful,” Petine said, who is growing basil, zucchini and tomatoes. “And they’re still maintaining it for me.”
Garden Club committee member Tony Sclafani, 77, came up with the idea of caring for the gardens for the community’s healthcare workers, and brought the idea before the board.
“The hospital workers couldn’t do their patches because they were too busy at the hospitals and health care facilities,” Sclafani said. “So we said, let’s do it for them.”
The members plant, weed, water and fertilize the patches until the health care workers’ schedules return to normal.
Mariya Costanzo, 47, is an RN who works in the Rapid Diagnosis Unit at Community Medical Center in Toms River. She regularly works 12.5-hour shifts.
“I love gardening, and I would normally come everyday,” she said. “This year I thought it would be a waste of time, but I bought plants anyway.”
When Sclafani came to her and offered to take care of her vegetable garden, Costanzo said she thought he was kidding.
“It looks great; now I’ll have my own vegetables,” she said. Costanzo grows eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes.
She was not in attendance, but Wanda Rodriguez is another healthcare worker from Four Seasons who is a member of the Garden Club.
Garden Club Chair Ed Schneider said that the Four Seasons developer donated the common space back when the community was first built.
“We have a resident architect who designed the tool shed for the Garden Club, and a resident laid out our stone work,” he said.
The Garden Club has 130 patches, and many of the 65 members have multiple patches. Residents of Four Seasons are not allowed to grow vegetables in their yards, so the common area is a good alternative, Schneider said.
All the patches have vegetables growing in them, except for the occasional marigold, which is a natural insect repellent, he said.
“We are so pleased to have the healthcare heroes,” Schneider said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude for what they’ve been doing to protect us from COVID-19.”
Garden Club member Tom DeMartino, who is an artist and crafter who offers virtual workshops to nursing homes and veterans groups through his “Unique Creatique” enterprise, presented each of the first responders with a birdhouse nightlight bottle.
DeMartino runs his patch year-round by enclosing it with corrugated plastic.
“We are happy to help our community members who have no time to take care of their patch,” he said. “And we also like to help the newbies,” DeMartino added.