Longtime Gardner Is Finding Joy During COVID-19

Photographer / Stephanie Duncan

Summer looks different this year. With travel restrictions, canceled sporting events, social distancing and working from home, people are looking for new activities to occupy their free time. Local Broad Ripple resident and longtime gardener, Helen Carroll finds small joys in gardening as a way to connect with others during such an isolated time.

Carroll has transformed her small corner lot into a lush vegetable garden oasis over the past nine years and has found her eclectic garden opens up opportunities to connect with others.

“I don’t have a dog or kids around anymore, but I have a garden in front of my corner lot,” she says. “And especially during COVID, it has been a great way to socialize with people.” She was lucky enough to have gotten a sprinkler repair right before the pandemic so she was able to have her garden ready.

Neighbors will walk by with their dogs and children and her garden allows her to stay connected with her community.

“The neighborhood kids are amazed at a carrot you can pull out of the ground,” she says. “They’re amazed at the tomatoes. They look at things differently.”

Though Carroll has been gardening for a while, she didn’t always find the joy in it that she does now.

“As a child, I grew up in upstate New York where gardening was a big deal,” Carroll says. “And my father had a big garden in the backyard. I always had to help out and I despised it.”

She laughs while reminiscing about her dad’s garden.

“As soon as I moved away and got married, bought a house, gardening became important to me,” she says. “My father was thrilled.”

When Carroll downsized her living situation and moved to a small double in the heart of Broad Ripple after her divorce, she was skeptical about how she could garden on a small corner lot with no proper backyard.

“Moving here after being on an acre of ground on the White River, I thought, ‘Oh my heavens, what am I going to do?’”she says.

After nine years, her impressive garden, filled with a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers, has encompassed both side yards of her property, sprawling into the front yard beyond the fence.

“I love watching my plants grow. I love the pleasure of knowing that I have done this,” Carroll says.

Gardening also inspires her other hobbies, including portraits of her vegetables harvested from her garden. The walls throughout her house are adorned with vibrant vegetable artwork, made from handmade papers, but the art doesn’t stop there. It’s not uncommon to find googly eyes on her actual vegetable harvest in the kitchen.

“I had these little hats I used to put on my cat, and then I started putting hats and googly eyes on my sweet potatoes,” she says. “Friends started sending me packages of googly eyes and it’s gone from there!”

Carroll discovered gardening rewards patience and offers time for reflection.

“It’s taught me to sit back and watch what’s happening and to understand that you don’t have control, but you do have an effect on things,” she says. “You learn all the time. Every year is different. Sometimes I have great results and another doesn’t work at all. It changes, and I enjoy that.”

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