Often, when someone makes the difficult decision to move into a retirement community, it means they have to give something up.

A gardener from Whidbey Island didn't leave his skills behind. He planted them in his new home.

“Gardens and flowers are food and medicine for the soul,” said John Willson, who built his dream home on Whidbey Island where he retired and raised his award-winning dahlias for twenty years.

Two years ago, he and his wife decided to face the reality of aging and moved into Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island.

“I have to be honest and admit that it was a lot tougher (for me) than it was for my wife,” said Willson, a retired school principal.

He knew he might have to give up his passion, but almost as soon as they finished unpacking, Willson typed up a proposal. He wanted to turn large swaths of open space at the community into dahlia gardens.

“I think almost in unison all of them jumped out of their shoes and said, ‘This is what we wanted!’” Willson recalled.

Today, there are multiple blooming dahlia gardens, which provide free arrangements to brighten many peoples’ days.

“The gift of the flowers that have been brought to life here brings life to people who are nearing the end of their lives,” said Greg Asimakoupoulos, chaplain at Covenant Shores.

Resident volunteers cut the blooms, which just keep coming. Many of the arrangements end up in the memory care facility. John's dahlia program has been so successful, that he's expanding it in the spring.

“There's a mantra among gardeners that gardens will never be as good as the garden next year, so the element of hope and anticipation is something that is very important,” Willson said.