Planting flowers of memory

Every few days, Laura Edmondson leaves her home under the cover of darkness, packs her car with signs and painted wooden flowers, and goes to work planting them in the front yards of people she barely knows.

It's not a prank, though.

Edmondson, whose mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease, has brought a team the last four years to the Alzheimer's Assn. of Orange County's Memory Walk, a fundraiser that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment. This year, the Huntington Beach resident had an idea for how to raise funds beyond her immediate circle.

The association sometimes gives out paper forget-me-nots for people to display, so Edmondson and her husband, Phillip, built on that theme by creating 21 flowers in the garage, painting them purple and fixing them on long stakes.

For the last few weeks, Laura Edmondson has gone to front yards around town — belonging to friends, coworkers and friends of friends — and left the flowers in the lawn along with a packet of seeds and a flier urging the residents to donate to her team.

The success rate? So far, it's close to 100%.

"I just checked my e-mail, and I had two more donations because of houses I flowered," Laura Edmondson said.

The Edmondsons have a goal of raising $5,000 for the Memory Walk, which will take place Saturday at the boardwalk near Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach. That would be just a tiny part of the $850,000 the association hopes to raise through its walks this year, but President Jim McAleer said every dollar helps.

"We find that these days, there are very few people who don't know somebody who has Alzheimer's," he said. "We exist for the person with the disease and the people who love them."

According to the association, as many as 5.3 million Americans lived last year with Alzheimer's, a disease that destroys brain cells and results in memory loss and other behavioral problems. Laura Edmondson has a team of 15 people, dubbed Team Heartstrings, ready for this year's walk, but her mother, who lives at a care facility in Huntington Beach, won't be on it.

That's because large crowds are often overwhelming to people with Alzheimer's, Edmondson said.

"She couldn't even handle my whole family together anymore," she said. "She had 10 children and she can't remember half of them. She'll look at them and not know who they are."

As the day of the walk approaches, she's kept busy with the flowers, planting them at 30 homes so far. After two or three days, she retrieves them and moves them to another location. She has yet to be spotted planting the front-yard display, she said.

Cathy Villani, a friend of Edmondson whose yard got the treatment recently, said the display inspired not only her, but others on her block to contribute.

"All the neighbors donated because of that," said Villani, who will join Team Heartstrings in the walk. "I guess that was her whole point, to get donations to end this terrible disease."

If You Go

What: Alzheimer's Assn. Memory Walk

Where: Starts at boardwalk by Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach

When: Registration at 8:30 a.m., opening ceremonies at 9:30 a.m., walk at 10 a.m.

Information: or (949) 757-3708

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