Judson Park resident shares passion for tomatoes

You could say that Judson Park resident Shirley Gruszka was born with a green thumb.  For about 70 years, she has cultivated a variety of gardens.

Shirley grew up on Cleveland’s east side, attended A. J. Rickoff elementary school, Hamilton Junior High and graduated from John Adams High School.  She raised her family in Shaker Heights.

“My grandfather taught me about gardening,” says Shirley. “I remember helping him plant potatoes.  As a youngster during World War II, she participated in a Victory Garden project.  Students were given seeds to take home and plant.  “We were graded on how well we maintained the garden,” she remembers.  “If you were successful, the local board of education would give you a plaque.”

At Judson, Shirley lends her talents to maintaining the tomato plants and flowers on the fourth floor terrace of the Bruening Health Center.  Although confined to a wheelchair, Shirley spends up to 90 minutes a day watering and tending to the plantings following breakfast.

One tomato plant has grown to about 10 feet tall!  What’s her secret?

“Leftover brewed coffee,” she says.  “It naturally has the nutrients to keep the plants healthy.

Shirley also “suckers” the sprouting plants, pinching rouge branches where they meet the stem.  “It keeps the stalk strong and forces them to grow tall,” she says.

With each harvest, she shares tomatoes with both staff and residents.

“The staff here is so warm and friendly,” says Shirley.  “It’s my way of giving back and showing my appreciation.”

In addition to her passion for gardening, Shirley credits Art Therapist Cathy Bryan with inspiring her creative side.  She has become quite an artist, designing her own jewelry, pins and ankle bracelets.

For more information about Judson and its programs, call us at (216) 791-2004.


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