Jim Botel looks over his raised vegetable garden at Eagle Ridge Manor.

Seniors participate in community garden

A community garden at Eagle Ridge Manor gives seniors new activities

PORT HARDY—Eagle Ridge Manor resident Jim Botel needs the aid of a walker to move around the senior care centre attached to Port Hardy Hospital. But that doesn’t stop him from grabbing a fresh snack when the mood strikes.

He need only reach into his personal, raised vegetable garden and pluck a carrot or onion, which is eaten on the spot.

Botel is among nearly a dozen residents or family members who have taken advantage of donations from Port Hardy Rotary and the Hospital’s Women’s Auxiliary to become involved in a new garden that has sprouted behind the centre.

The previous garden space was destroyed last year to make way for a new, 11-bed wing for the facility. But the donations of money and labour, and more than a few green thumbs possessed by residents, have created a bright, colourful hideaway off the back lobby of the Manor.

“Gardening is huge therapy, especially at this age,” said Louise Dugas, recreational coordinator at Eagle Ridge. “These people all had gardens before.”

The main garden is made up of a profusion of flowering shrubs and both annual and perennial plants, all arranged around a central island of lawn circled by a wheelchair-friendly, paved sidewalk. Opposite the back door to the manor is a gazebo to provide shade in the sun or a dry spot on rainy days.

“It’s a beautiful place,” resident Nettie Williams said while enjoying a recent sunny afternoon in the garden. “It’s lovely.”

On prominent display on the front of the gazebo, next to the Canadian flag, is a large, painted wooden butterfly donated by current resident Dona Koch. It is one of three she collected, and the other two remain in the family with her daughters.

“When I look out and see that, I feel quite at home,” said Koch.

The vegetable garden is Botel’s personal domain, and much of it is contained in a simple, nine-square-foot box that gives new meaning to the term “raised bed”. Because it is difficult for him to kneel and hunch over a ground-level garden bed, Botel’s raised container was placed on an old table, where he can stand or sit on his walker and work the soil.

The box runs riot with beets, onions, chives, zucchini, leeks and lettuces.

“The lettuce has a story to tell,” Botel said with a twinkle in his eye. “Some residents don’t always see eye to eye, and one day I came out and found the lettuce gone. They said the squirrels got ’em, but they were right over there by the fence. I just had to gather them up and re-plant them.”

Botel has separate containers with carrots and strawberries, and potatoes and berry canes are planted in rows along the back fence.

But, Dugas notes, Botel has had difficulty navigating the hill down to the berries. Also, the sidewalk around the central lawn is too narrow to allow two wheelchairs or walkers to pass, and she is hopeful the garden can be expanded with additional assistance from the community.

“With the building expansion has come more residents with expanded interests,” Dugas said. “We really do need more pathways, and it would be nice to extend the path out beyond the gazebo.”

Koch, who says she gardened her whole life, has a wish list that includes a small tool shed.

“I’m a life member of the women’s (hospital) auxiliary,” Koch said. “I’m proud of all they’ve done, and hope they will help us further. This garden has really added so much.”

It’s certainly added activities for the residents to engage in. After reaching into his garden bed to pinch off a green onion and pop it into his mouth, Botel was asked what he might be doing if he did not have the garden.

“Well, we have paint-by-numbers,” he said. “This is better.”

 

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