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In the garden: Grower with Parkinson's sees opportunities, not obstacles

February 22, 2011 |  6:27 am

"Life is all about how you handle Plan B," says Sherri Wolf, edging her wheelchair closer to snip at a hanging leaf on a rose bloom, her hands trembling slightly but her speech clear, her eyes steady. It’s one of the coffee mug homilies she lives by — that and “There's nothing better than putting a big pot of water on for dinner, going out into the garden and picking your corn.”

Sherri-Wolf-chocolate-mint Working the soil and growing from seed is an integral part of Wolf’s Plan B, a way to deal with the Parkinson’s disease that has brought her from her Del Mar condo to living at the Village at Sherman Oaks, an upscale retirement community. At 69, she’s the youngest person there — there are a few over 100 — and despite her disability, she’s forcing all of her new neighbors to reevaluate their relationship to plants.

Her impact at the facility ranges from the fresh-cut flowers in the dining room to the rose-filled containers in the central patio, just off the main lobby. In the back are more roses, along with raised beds full of herbs and vegetables, and a greenhouse where she works — sometimes until midnight or later.

“It's funny. When I'm working on my plants, I forget I have Parkinson's disease,” says Wolf.

She came to the Village last February and quickly found a spot in the garden, working there every day, pruning, weeding, talking to her plants. “People say it's stupid talking to your plants, but to me that only means paying attention to them.”


Fifteen years ago Wolf was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after a neurologist eliminated everything else as a cause of her constant fatigue. She knew someone who had the disease and knew there were some things she couldn't do anymore.

Sherri-Wolf-cook That included water skiing but not gardening. She has always had a garden: an acre and a half when she had a daily AM radio talk show for Sam Phillips in Tennessee, and, decades later, a patio full of plants when she worked as a Realtor in Del Mar. And now here at the Village, she’s found her latest garden. It’s meant more fresh flowers for residents, a wide selection of fresh herbs and fresh veggies for the kitchen, and a chance to introduce the glory of sprouting seeds to nonagenarian newbies. (That's Wolf picking herbs with a member of the staff.)

The greenhouse was adapted for her use with the addition of grab bars, a smoother floor and a flexible watering hose. It’s cozy and the 3-by-4-foot raised beds on either side make everything within easy reach. Seeds require close handling.

“I like growing up things by seed,” says Wolf. “You come out every day. You don't see anything. And then one day, you see a tiny green thing. And two days later it has two tiny leaves. Four days later it has four leaves. And the next thing you know you have a flower. It's fascinating. It’s like having a baby.”

Her plans for this spring are traditional: The Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash. She has help sometimes, but the gardening club she started last year has had its ups and downs as would-be gardeners move out, lose interest or become ill. For many, the physicality of gardening is a challenge.


“They're afraid they can't bend down, that they can’t do a lot of things. I feel for them, but they can do it if they want to. There are no problems, just opportunities. We cannot direct the wind, only adjust the sails. Those are words I live by.”

-- Jeff Spurrier

Photos: Ann Summa