Getting dirty at 91: Air Force vet maintains garden at Park Villa

  • Thurman “Ike” Johnson, 91, of Park Villa in Turners Falls has cultivated this beautiful perennial garden at the apartment complex. July 26, 2017. Contributed

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    Thurman "Ike" Johnson weeds his gardens at Park Villa. July 26, 2017. Contributed

  • Thurman “Ike”€ Johnson, 91, of Park Villa in Turners Falls has cultivated this beautiful perennial garden at the apartment complex. Below and upper right, other scenes showing off Ike’s work. Contributed photos

  • Thurman “Ike” Johnson, 91, of Park Villa in Turners Falls has cultivated this beautiful perennial garden at the apartment complex. July 26, 2017. Contributed

  • Thurman “Ike” Johnson, 91, of Park Villa in Turners Falls has cultivated this beautiful perennial garden at the apartment complex. July 26, 2017. Contributed

  • Pollinators populate the gardens at Park Villa. July 26, 2017. Contributed

  • Several types of lilies bloom gardens at Park Villa. July 26, 2017. Contributed

  • Pollinators populate the gardens at Park Villa. July 26, 2017. Contributed

Recorder Staff
Published: 7/28/2017 10:27:52 PM

TURNERS FALLS — When Thurman “Ike” Johnson turned 90, his doctor asked what he had spent his life doing.

Johnson told him the truth — “a little bit of everything” — and the doctor instructed him to keep it up. That includes living at the Park Villa Apartments in Turners Falls and diligently maintaining the flower garden he has been nurturing there for four years.

Now 91, Johnson spends roughly four hours a day, weather permitting, in the garden he has pioneered in between two of the complex’s buildings.

“I come out here every day and diddle around. I love it. Staying in that apartment all day and all night — too much for me,” he said standing in garden, hoe in hand. “I started with annuals and I got tired because I only got a couple of months, or sometimes not even that much, of flowers. Now, I can start getting flowers in May and they go all the way to snow time.”

Johnson, who grew up during the Great Depression on a small farm in Derry, N.H., said he and his wife moved to Park Villa five years ago. After his first year there, he asked management if he could spruce up a patch of plants on the property. The area was littered with weeds, which Johnson said had to be pulled out by hand. He now has between 40 and 50 flowering plants, though he doesn’t memorize what they’re called.

“I don’t know the names. As long as it grows nicely and comes out pretty, that’s all I want. … I don’t try to remember them,” he said under a gorgeous, clear-blue sky. “I raised a lot of vegetable gardens, but never a flower garden. I didn’t know one flower from the other, and I still don’t know many of them.”

Neighbor Jean Funari, who moved to Park Villa in March, said Johnson’s garden brightens up the property. She said a lot of women go for walks from one end of the estate to the other and make a point to stroll past the garden.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s totally amazing.”

Johnson said his garden is filled with perennials, which live for more than two years. He abandoned annuals, which complete their life cycle in one year, years ago.

“Annuals are very pretty plants, they’re just short-term, that’s all,” he explained.

Johnson, a U.S. Air Force veteran-turned-landscaper, said he wakes every morning between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and tends to his garden for roughly two hours and returns from roughly 6 to 8 p.m. He said he tries to avoid intense sunlight because he burns easily, but he prefers to be outside instead of in his rocking chair listening “to the garbage on TV.” He also said he plans to continue maintaining the garden for his own enjoyment and for that of others, because Park Villa is home.

“We’re very happy and content here and I suspect we’re going to be here until we flop,” he said.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 258.
On Twitter: @DomenicPoli


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