Gardening together

Gardening has been a part of Alice Forrester’s life for as long as she can remember. 

The 53-year-old has cherished childhood memories of working alongside her father in the garden. As she grew older, her love of gardening stayed strong.  

For the past seven years, Alice has been a resident at St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital. Born with spina bifida and now in a wheelchair, she’s unable to get down into the dirt, but a gardening program means she’s still able to enjoy her passion for plants. For more than 20 years, the hospital and Steinhauer School have enjoyed a partnership that involves children and residents participating together in various activities, including planting a garden in June.

The two groups coming together for an afternoon of planting meant Alice was able to share her knowledge of gardening as she guided a few students to carefully place tomatoes into the earth. 

“I enjoyed it, it was comforting. I love being around kids. It’s good that we work as a team because I can’t get down on the ground,” says Alice. “It brings me back to when I was in my younger days.”

The school and hospital partnership provides opportunities for residents to pass down their knowledge of activities such as gardening, and enables intergenerational relationships to form, says Recreational Therapist Carolyn Rein.

“I think in the past, society was built on intergenerational connections and it isn’t as much anymore. That’s why it’s so important to connect. Seniors enjoy seeing new life, and children are in awe of people who have lived life, so we can have that special connection." 

Residents started their gardening work before the risk of frost had passed. Weeks earlier, they nurtured tomato, pepper and herb seedlings as well as marigolds. Most residents aren’t able to plant outside anymore, so they need the help of young gardeners, says Carolyn.

“They are our legs, our arms, our energy—and we are their knowledge.”

The gardening program doesn't just provide residents an opportunity to stay involved with the community; it also includes many health benefits for the kids and the residents. Carolyn explains that gardening helps with both physical and mental health, as well as playing an important role in social interaction.

And the kids agree. “It was really fun because you get to enjoy their company and ask them how they are doing,” says Grade 5 student Cayden Davey-Heard. 

Alice instructing a student how to water plants.

Working together was a positive experience for Mila Harper-Carlson, also in Grade 5. 

“It was really fun because I liked coming here and meeting new people.” 

Education Assistant Jennifer Webb says students love seeing that the residents are eager to hear what they have to say.

“It gives them a whole bunch of confidence,” says Jennifer. “It teaches them how to talk to other people. They are used to talking to other children, their teachers and their families. But when it comes to talking to someone they don’t know, the residents are very forgiving, very kind-hearted and gentle, and they really help the kids step outside of their comfort zone and grow.”

Student learn how to plant tomatoes.

The event even attracts people from the community, such as 84-year-old Sophie Sakousky. Her husband is a resident at St. Joseph’s, and even though he was unable to join in the gardening fun, she enjoyed spending time with the kids. 

“It’s wonderful exposure for them. It makes me happy, and at the same time they are learning something. I think it’s good exposure for all of us,” says Sophie. 

Alice agrees.

“It makes me feel passionate,” she says. “I can help the kids and show them how to do these things, so when they are in their adult life they can do it themselves.”

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