Twenty-eight days in a row, the 90-year-old woman made the trek from her apartment up the hill to the Alegent Creighton Health Immanuel Medical Center. Outside the Cancer Center, workers from Lanoha Nurseries were turning a nondescript patch of land into a botanical masterpiece.
And Ardyth Low—the nonagenarian—didn't miss a single turn of the hoe.
"This is much more interesting than playing bingo!" Low said, as she looked over the Inspiration Garden that was dedicated June 20th. "I felt so blessed and privileged to have seen it all and, gratefully on my two new hips, been able to climb the hilly sidewalk to go up there."
The garden includes extensive landscaping by Lanoha Nurseries and a 18-foot-long "butterfly" screen and 14-foot-tall chime display. It's intended to be a getaway for cancer patients, their families and any staff members at Immanuel who want to de-stress or enjoy nature.
Low has deep ties to Immanuel Medical Center. Her first two daughters were born at the original Immanuel Hospital at 34th and Fowler. And she loves the outdoors. She and her husband of 55 years were volunteer naturalist teachers for 40 years at Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods before he passed away. They grew ginkgo, Japanese pagoda and Paw Paw trees from seeds and had extensive flower gardens on their own property. Low herself mowed the grass until she was 75 years old.
"Supervising" garden projects was not new to Low. When Lanoha created the Celebration Park on Immanuel Medical Center's campus, Low hauled her folding chair in a cart every day for 30 days so she could watch the action. She was so popular with the crew that when the project was completed one of the men bent down, picked a purple pansy and presented it to her. "I was about to cry!" she said. She soon cheered up when she found out they'd be back this spring to create the Inspiration Garden in front of the Cancer Center. This time she left her folding chair at home and sat indoors on a bench, watching the work from behind glass.
"She was in the window every single day," Lanoha's landscape designer and project manager Andy Holmquist said. "If she wasn't in the window, we wondered and worried where she was." Holmquist said the 90-year-old they called "Ardy" was their cheerleader and had "a lot of spunk." She always wanted to know the names of plants she was unfamiliar with. Whenever they finished a section, they'd look up and she'd be standing there, clapping and pumping air.
"These men worked so hard," she said, smiling at what she called their "Popeye arms." She watched them work in the cold and rain so they could finish on time. "God doesn't care about deadlines. He sends his rainstorms whenever he wants to. They did backbreaking work moving huge trees, dug holes in hard soil and worked hours on end without rest."
Low also befriended sculptor Matthew Placzek, whose work is the centerpiece of the garden, and he quickly became a fan of hers. "I was always reassured that Ardy was there," Placzek said. She even showed up on the hot Saturday afternoon when the 18-foot-long screen was being placed in the garden. "She was fascinated by the butterflies flying in the wind with the crane. I turned to look at her and she had a look of amazement," When he placed the doves, Placzek looked over at Low. "I asked if my placement looked good from her vantage point. We gave each other the thumbs up for approval."
Low giggled that she became a sort of "unofficial hostess" for both gardens, answering questions for those who were passing by, even chiding some to put out their cigarettes because Immanuel is a smoke free campus.
What's next for the energetic white-haired gal with the straw hat? "I don't know," she laughed naughtily. "I'll have to think of something!" She looked longingly to the east of Immanuel Hospital, where there's a small patch that could be made into a third garden.
This article originally appeared in the Alegent Creighton Health enewsletter. To subscribe, click here.