For Cancer Center nurse, gardens mean life, renewal

(The Star Press) In a yard ringed with nigella, salvia, dianthus and more, you might mistake the word metacarpal for just another flower.

Unfortunately, it’s a bone, which in Sherri Papp’s case, is broken.

The injury occurred a few weeks ago in an automobile accident, but as a glance around her beautiful property attests, even a black-and-blue hand can’t thwart a green thumb. These days, she simply indulges her gardening passion right-handed.

“I’ve weeded and dug and planted and trimmed my bushes,” said the 56-year-old nurse, who works in the IU Health Ball Memorial Cancer Center. “I’ve even dug with a shovel.”

As she spoke, she was seated on the patio of her home in Country Village, a place she shares with her husband, Thomas, a trust administrator and vice president of PNC in Indianapolis, and her new puppy, Eli, a playful white bundle of Coton de Tulear that’s as cute as he is uncommon hereabouts. Water gushing from a large rock feature added a pleasant, gurgling sound to the scene.

A native of Akron, Ohio, who earned her nursing degree from the University of Akron, Papp grew up gardening under the tutelage of her grandmother, who she called Gree-Gree. Asked to name her favorite flower, she pointed out the colorful patch of dianthus, also called Sweet William.

“This is my absolutely favorite flower,” she said, “because it makes me think of my grandma. … She taught me a lot about flowers, and nature in general.”

There were years, though, when this mother of three didn’t garden, keeping busy raising her kids, working and spending money on other necessities. Then about 15 years ago, her itch to get back to the soil could no longer be ignored.

“And it just kind of escalated,” she said with a laugh, glancing about the yard.

She still employs her grandmother’s gardening tips, too, like putting egg shells around her tomato plants to provide extra calcium and prevent black rot.

“Which is why I still put marigolds around my vegetables, too, to keep bugs away,” Papp continued, explaining she also uses Epsom salts to make her dirt acidic.

Around her place, striking color comes into view every time you turn a corner.

“I had purples and yellows and whites,” she said, walking past her plot of irises. “I made it so something is blooming all the time.”

Butterfly weed, coneflower, lilies, zinnia, nigella, also called “love in a mist,” and clematis were growing there, too.

“I have them in all colors,” she said of that last flower, then pointed out the red honeysuckle growing against her wooden fence. “Oh, the hummingbirds love those! I have hydrangea all over the place. … If it grows in Indiana, I probably have it.”

Also in abundance in her garden, meanwhile, are rocks carved with verses of favorite scripture and frogs, the non-croaking kind, which she has been collecting for 37 years, or nearly as long as she has been a nurse. That hobby harkens back to practically her first encounter with the man who would become her husband, when she made some innocuous comment about a place like, “We should go here.”

“He said, ‘Who’s we? Do you have a frog in your pocket?’ ” she recalled, grinning.

Later, the first gift he bought her was a frog — fake, of course.

When Papp, a member of First Baptist Church, isn’t gardening, she enjoys decorating, reading, studying the Bible and hanging out with her nursing friends.

“They’re just fun to be with,” she said, pointing out an arisaema triphyllum, better known as “Jack in the pulpit,” that was given her by her friend and fellow nurse Dondra Bennett.

Other flowers are also very special to her.

“Many of these plants come from patients,” Papp said, noting she thinks of those people, some still here, some gone, whenever she sees them bloom.

Given the intense nature of her work in the Cancer Center, this place is a true refuge for her.

“This is my peace,” she said, talking about how her perennials disappear each fall and return each spring. “It might sound corny, but you realize it’s like the big circle of life. … I just come here to worship. It’s my place of worship, really.”