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After traveling down, a devastating dementia-care journey and the loss of her mom in 2008, Mary E. MacDonald and her husband Karl R. Ackerman saw the need for more accessible garden experiences for people living with long-term illness and their care-partners, especially those living with memory loss. So, over the course of the next four years, the couple created seven wheelchair-accessible horticultural areas: The Cut Flower Garden, Roses & Kitchen Garden, Orchard Avenue, Ornamental Tree & Shrub Garden, Raspberry Patch, Cedar Grove & Tunnel, and Koi Pond. From April through October, Mary and Karl host the once-a-month wheelchair accessible “Sunday Stroll” and on most Saturdays, the “Memory Café in the Garden,” the first outdoor Memory Café in the U.S. and the home of Karl and Mary, located in Topsfield.

“Our private gardens offer a breath of fresh air and a temporary escape from long-term-care burdens,” says MacDonald, who is also the foundress, director, and owner of Marymac Missions LLC, which showcases Mary’s speaking, training, and retreat work to directly support dementia caregivers.


Mary E. MacDonald and Karl R. Ackerman. Photo by Scott Eisen.


Currently, the couple is hosting the Accessible Lilac Festival in their Cut Flower Garden, inspired by the Arnold Arboretum’s “Lilac Sunday” and the Rochester Lilac Festival in Rochester, New York. The lilacs will be blooming for another week. To visit, book a private tour for the week of May 22, which can be scheduled by calling 978-887-4202 or by emailing

 Rest.Stop.Ranch’s Memory Café program is offered most Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon through the end of October. Its Sunday Stroll (best wheelchair-access) is offered once a month. 

MacDonald says the program’s small-scale wheelchair-accessible MargFMac Front Garden Loop (0.1 mile), which includes all seven horticultural areas, offers big benefits to people with disabilities and care-partners, including:

Access parking virtually at the plantings.

Walk or wheel a short distance from your vehicle to view the plants.

Picnic at a wheelchair-accessible picnic table (MA DDS funded).

Use a wheelchair-accessible port-a-potty (MA DDS funded).

Avoid the crowds & enjoy peace and quiet.

“My Dad and I are completely at peace and engulfed by the beauty of these gardens,” says Darcy Morales-Zullo of West Newton, a caregiver and Rest.Stop.Ranch visitor. “This café is special. It’s different. You are a family. It’s offered outdoors, in a beautiful garden… and [Mary and Karl have] reserved this experience for us. Thank you.  

Mary and Karl provide a completely restful, peaceful and re-energizing experience for persons with memory loss and their caregiver(s). Their hard work at making the gardens accessible for persons in wheelchairs is so appreciated. Their kindness shown to my dad and to me is such necessary nourishment!

What a gift it is to be able to enjoy such exquisite surroundings with the peace of mind that my dad is safe, and is also enjoying Mary and Karl’s garden. What a treasure being able to be in nature, admiring its magnificence, while having your loved one be safe and fully involved in the beauty of their gardens. The amount of work, the love they have for persons with memory loss, and the devotion to their hobby is blatantly evident!

Weeks later, I’m still basking in the glow of sitting in your gardens. Just to sit on a bench! It was such a lovely respite for us… I find myself often revisiting that experience in my mind and in my heart!”

Rest.Stop.Ranch is not yet open to the public, nor is it a local business or a not-for-profit organization; it is just Karl and Mary, one North Shore couple with “a passion for plants and wheelchair-access, building the gardens with a plan for public access in the future.”

In the spring of 2016 and 2017, Rest.Stop.Ranch received seed-funding from the Massachusetts State Department of Developmental Services for its Memory Café program, which enabled Karl and Mary to expand the program to most Saturdays (April-October).

For those who share the program’s values, vision, and mission, in-kind donations, such as seeds, plants, outdoor garden furniture, and art/sculptures, or financial donations are welcome.