Jonquil Nelson

Jonquil Nelson (left) and Karlene Byers, 80, check on Summer Wood Apartments’ garden and sample some green peas.

Jonquil Nelson grew up on a farm in Indiana and spent much of that time gardening with her grandfather.

She said he was an avid gardener, but had to give it up when he moved into a retirement home.

“It broke my heart that he couldn’t put his hands in the dirt again,” Nelson said.

That heartbreak inspired Nelson to create an organization called Sage Gardeners. For almost 10 years, Nelson and a team of about 25 volunteers have been building gardens for seniors and retirement homes in the Bozeman area. Nelson is a master gardener certified through Montana State University Extension.

Nelson said she saw how hard it was for her grandfather to give up a lifelong hobby, and realized she could make a difference for others.

“To me, that was a no-brainer. We should help these people,” Nelson said.

One of the first gardens Sage Gardeners built was at Summer Wood Apartments off of Oak Street. It’s a complex that offers affordable housing for seniors. The plant and vegetable garden was built on raised beds so people can work standing up.

Last week, Nelson visited the garden and was impressed by how well it was doing. Sage Gardeners provides support for their gardens, but leaves management up to residents.

Karlene Byres, 80, has lived at the complex for five years and spent countless hours in the garden. She especially enjoys harvesting its green peas, tomatoes and zucchini.

“I thought it was a great idea because it gets you out of your apartment and gives you something to do,” Byers said.

This summer, Nelson and her team have built three new gardens and helped maintain many others. Nelson said connecting with people is her favorite part of the job.

“When we donate these gardens and see how happy these people are, that’s amazing,” Nelson said.

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