New CARES Garden Stirs Sensory Memories

Last fall, when our CJFS CARES program moved, the new building came with a small fenced yard and patio. “It’s shaded by a lovely weeping willow, and we knew it had great potential,” said CARES Program Director Pam Leonard. “One of our participants who grew up on a farm was sharing ideas for what to plant there.”

This summer, that potential began to be realized when two members of the Jefferson County Master Gardeners Association, CJFS Board Member Joyce Shevin and retired attorney Kate Musso, installed what they hope will be just the first phase of a CARES memory and sensory garden. Beginning with four large pots, the pair created a space that offers participants, caregivers and volunteers the opportunity to revisit happy memories through sensory experience. Two graceful wooden benches were added with funds donated as a birthday tribute by friends of longtime CARES volunteer Rhonda Siegel. 

Although Kate had no previous experience with CARES, she was excited to become involved with a program that serves families affected by dementia. “Because both my father and father-in-law suffered from dementia, I have a real soft spot for people experiencing the illness and the loved ones who care for them,” Kate said. “As a gardener, I know that gardens offer so many opportunities to help people access pleasant experiences, including experiences that would prompt memory,” Kate added. “A garden can also be a comfort when memory is not available – so the purpose is to offer not only stimulation but also a reprieve from the anxiety that comes when your memory is failing.”

In early 2020, the garden will serve as a project site for a group of Master Gardener interns, who will be asked to plan and help implement a second phase. Over time, it is hoped that the garden, which will be dedicated to the memory of late CARES participant Judy Abroms, will have additional features to stimulate the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

“In addition to stimulating the senses, there are lots of activities that can be planned through the garden,” Joyce said. “They may be drying flowers, creating birdfeeders, or when the children come to visit (from nearby St. Stephens Episcopal Church preschool), they may want to make wreaths from the leaves of the beautiful weeping willow.”


CJFS CARES provides four hours per day of sensory, social and physical engagement for people affected by mild to moderate dementia. For more information, contact Pam Leonard, or 205.960.3411.

For information about volunteering at CARES, contact Lise Grace, or 205.410.1958.