A Bright and Beautiful Plan B

By Jim Sollecito

Ed Balian with his daughter Barb Rinella from DeWitt  enjoy some tea in the Sensory and Healing Garden at Sollecito Landscaping Nursery in Syracuse.
Ed Balian with his daughter Barb Rinella from DeWitt enjoy some tea in the Sensory and Healing Garden at Sollecito Landscaping Nursery in Syracuse.

Just when you think you’ve earned some peace and predictability, the unexpected happens and you have to go to plan B. Then you realize you don’t have a plan B. You hardly had time to learn the rules to plan A.

I had triplet great aunts who lived in Amsterdam, NY. Mary and Minnie developed Alzheimer’s, dying before their time. Nellie was the sharpest tack in the family until she died at age 93. The last time I saw her she still knew my birthdate. From a young age, those three made a lasting impression on me. How could there possibly be such a disconnect? I knew then that life held more questions than answers.

I have friends going through life’s physical motions while their minds definitely drift. One of these friends, Ed Balian of DeWitt, gave me permission to photograph him with his loving daughter, Barb Rinella, who cares for him 24/7. Ed and I have a Cornell University connection. He graduated long before I entered but I’m still able to coax some of his memories out of him.

Back in early January I landed on the front page of the Post Standard with an impressively sized photograph of my garden center flooded by melting snow that overtaxed the Howlett Hill Road drainage system. The damage was well over $10,000 and gave me the opportunity for a plan B.

What if I devoted the area to a garden for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia? What if elements of this garden could trigger long-term memory? When they visit maybe they’ll reconnect to some morsel of their lives currently buried inside their brain. I’d include heirloom plants, wind chimes ringing familiar notes, brightly painted bicycles like one they might have ridden, and even clothes poles they hung on when their mothers were drying their dungarees and blouses. I would provide ample seating, shade and something colorful so, no matter when they visit, there would be something to talk about.

And for caregivers, who need to keep reminding themselves that they’ll do better by focusing more on what exists than what’s missing.

Everyone loves masses of bright hydrangeas, free-flowering weigelas, hosts of hostas, happy hardy hibiscus, bundles of black-eyed susans, and a myriad of other marvelous plants. Our talented drafter and resident artist Elise Robinson re-purposed cast offs, created wind chimes from wine bottles and old kitchenware. She painted old garden tools in brilliant hues to rival a rainbow of Crayolas.

The Sensory and Healing Garden is complete — a bright and beautiful plan B.

You’re invited. Visit anytime we are open. Bring someone. Bring a lunch if you like. Leave with some new memories. Life is a series of moments, some so special they are impossible to forget — and worth repeating. Perhaps we can help you grow a memory or two this year. The unexpected plan B.

Jim Sollecito is the first lifetime senior certified landscape professional in NYS. He operates Sollecito Landscaping Nursery in Syracuse. Contact him at 468-1142 or