She enters the room greeting her ‘patients’ with kind words, music, and, in all likelihood, a dollop or two of water. Arlene Iverson is the resident plant doctor at Lexington Square senior living community in Elmhurst. With a lifelong passion for all things green and growing (or trying to grow), Iverson is directing her proclivity for plants by helping her neighbors. With more than 200 residents at Lexington Square Elmhurst, it’s reasonable that some have thumbs that are greener than others. Iverson has graciously stepped in to help the lesser-green-thumbed neighbors out by working at restoring and caring for their ailing plants and flowers.
Iverson has lived at Lexington for 11 years but has been aware of the community far longer. “I watched Lexington Square being built,” she said. “In 1995, I worked for a doctor across the street and one day walked over here and picked up a brochure.” When she and her husband decided to move to a retirement community, the Villa Park couple wanted to remain close to their family and church and chose Lexington Square. She said it was instantaneously a good move. “A neighbor down the hall commandeered me not a day after we moved in and told me we were going to have lunch together the next day. She got me involved in the community right away.”
Iverson said that she loved horticulture from the time she was a young child growing up in Chicago. “My parents had a big yard and cherry trees. I loved to garden.” During her 47-year nursing career, she had a busy family and work life, but still made time to garden. When she moved to Lexington, she found more time for her hobby, as well as a special space. A brightly lit room decorated with garden pictures and statues and approximately 50 flowers and plants became her ‘office.’ Initially, people brought their plants to her when they were going on vacation so that she would water them. Gradually, plants were gifted to Iverson, and then people started bringing their plants that needed care. “I have gardening books, and the library is right outside my office door. I can look things up and try to problem-solve,” she said.
Iverson researches and subsequently re-pots, changes soil, trims, waters and brings many plants back to health. “I play music and talk to them; I sometimes say, ‘please grow.’ Most often, they do,” she said. The room is open 24/7, and there are abundant gardening supplies and containers for use. She also ‘lends’ plants to residents expecting company. “If someone has a guest coming from out of town, they might want to borrow some greenery to make a corner look nice. I help them figure something out, and they borrow a plant or two.”
Explaining what she enjoys about gardening, Iverson said, “It’s playing in the dirt. I get the plants to grow and bloom. It’s nice to see greenery, and gardening is healthy for you. Everyone should have something growing in their homes.”
“Our residents have so many wonderful hobbies and talents,” said Tammy Hemmingway, executive director of Lexington Square. “We love finding ways for them to pursue their passions, and when they help their neighbors along the way, it’s perfect.”