Carl Barna is looking over the Homeland vegetable garden when he spots a tomato, ripe and red.
“Oh, my gosh,” he said. “Did you see that? Look at that. Holy cow.”
Carl is a lifelong gardener who never ceases to delight in his creations, and now, he gets to share his fresh produce with his fellow Homeland residents.
At Homeland, “They’re nothing but the best here,” said the good-natured Carl. “Everybody who works here, all the people – they’re great.”
In June, Homeland was a featured stop on the 2023 Historic Harrisburg Garden Tour. The 5th Street garden in full summer splendor was on display, with its fountain, roses, and shady seating.
Visitors also saw the vegetables and herbs thriving in the sunny Catherine Elizabeth Meikle Courtyard. That’s where Carl has been making his garden grow since 2018, soon after he arrived. He found some home-store managers who were happy to donate their late-season plants to Homeland, and before long, he had tomatoes and peppers growing.
Today, the garden is a cornucopia of summer goodness.
“We have tomatoes out there,” said Carl. “We have all kinds of peppers. We have jalapenos. We have bell peppers. We’ve got a red cherry pepper. Serrano. Cubanelle.”
He adds, “I like hot. We have a habanero. Now that’s hot.”
There are also carrots and turnips, and then there are the herbs – parsley, cilantro, sweet basil, and oregano.
“We don’t have any rosemary and thyme, but I like the song,” said the Simon and Garfunkel fan, singing the first line.
He suddenly remembers the time he and his mother, who was bedbound and living with dementia, were singing “Amazing Grace” when she suddenly stopped.
“Carl, you don’t want to sing,’” she told him. “You can’t hold a tune.” He laughs heartily at the memory, saying, “I’ll never forget that. Those were the exact words out of her mouth.”
As for enjoying the bounty of the garden, that’s where Carl’s garden helper, Homeland Activities Coordinator Diomaris Pumarol, enters the picture. Carl keeps the hot peppers for himself – “because nobody likes hot peppers” – while Diomaris chops up the rest into a seasoned medley for residents to enjoy.
“They get to taste it,” Carl said. “Everybody shares it.”
Carl, who worked his career in railroads and real estate renovations, taught himself to garden at his first home. There in the small backyard, he planted every square inch that got sun.
“Peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, lettuces,” he recalls. “I always wanted to get into asparagus, but you need a big area for that.”
When he’s not in the garden, Carl might be found in his bright and spacious Personal Care suite, fiddling with his computer, watching “Gunsmoke,” or chatting with neighbors who pop in. He makes friends everywhere, staying in touch with neighbors who move to Homeland’s Skilled Care.
“I try to have fun with all the people,” said Carl. “The good Lord put me here, so you have to plant your seed here, and hopefully, you grow; whatever you grow, it’s a good, happy plant – or person. I try to be happy every day and try to make other people happy in life.”