Facing Alzheimers

Facing Alzheimer's story

Written by Alexis Bacharach - Mill Creek Enterprise

Jenny Gunderson called her dad the magic gardener. "When I was little I remember he'd take branches that had broken off his hydrangea bushes and stick them in the dirt. The next year there'd be a new plant growing," said Gunderson, co-owner of My Garden Nursery in Mill Creek. "Before I understood anything about plants, I thought that was the most amazing thing in the world." Gunderson's father, a former engineer at Boeing, died from Alzheimers little more than a year ago. For six years, she watched disease rob her father of precious memories — rob him to the point that he no longer recognized his own daughter. It, therefore, seemed like a cruel joke when her mother was recently diagnosed with the same disease. "It's so hard because you're mourning the loss of this person while they're still with you. They're disappearing right before your eyes," she said. "My mom was the president of the Washington Poet Society. I remember her doing crossword puzzles and enjoying all things related to words. Now, she can barely put two words together in a sentence." Through her grief, Gunderson found a unique way to honor those touched by the disease and raise money for research. Gunderson's memory garden, which is being unveiled tonight at the nursery's first event since it opened in November, meanders some 200 feet along the nursery's back border. Like any garden, it features a mix of ornamental plants — a Japanese Maple, a few redbuds, hebes, hastas — you name it. What sets this garden apart are the dozen-or-so planters overflowing with grasses and sprays of color. They're strewn about — some painted Styrofoam, some stone and ceramic. Each demands investigation as you peruse the garden's intricate details — a dry river bed, large rocks that offer a quiet spot to sit and enjoy the outdoor sanctuary. "Jenny is out here all the time sitting on her rocks," said Gunderson's business partner, Bill Raynolds. "It's a very peaceful place." Raynolds is a former international banker who decided on a bicycle trip from Connecticut to the West Coast that he wanted to be a gardener. Gunderson met him at Molbaks Nursery in Woodinville a few years ago. Raynolds was applying for a job and Gunderson hired him. "She paid me a month what I was making a week as a banker," Raynolds said laughing. "But she was a the best boss ever. We both wanted to start our own nursery and the rest is history." It was Gunderson's father who set the wheels in motion for his daughter to be a gardener. Gunderson's first job was in the garden section at a Payless Drug Store more than 30 years ago. "That's when I realized I wanted to have my own nursery one day," Gunderson said. "I never anticipated, however, that it would actually happen one day. Having this place is a dream come true, and this garden is my attempt at giving something back." Tonight, Gunderson will write her parents' names on a pair of rocks and place them in the garden. The memory rocks, as she calls them, will be available year-round for customers who wish to memorialize their loved ones. Proceeds from the sale of each $5 stone will go to the Western Washington Chapter of the Alzheimers Association. "To think that people can come here to this garden all year round and sit and remember their loved ones is just amazing," Gunderson said. "That I have such wonderful employees who helped make this possible is more than I could have hoped for." It's hard to believe the space that is now occupied by the garden was a mess of weeds and debris a little more than a month ago. "I had this idea and pretty soon everyone was out here helping it happen," Gunderson said. "Bill the former international banker was out here on a tractor … everyone pitched in and helped." My Garden and Nursery is located at 17414 Bothell Everett Highway in Mill Creek.