Staying healthy in the garden

Ermelindo Matiello has a passion for gardening and being in a wheelchair hasn’t stopped him from nurturing and caring for plants. 

The 94-year-old St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital resident enjoys heading outside daily to check on how his tomatoes are faring and takes pride in helping where he’s able.

“I put the tomatoes in there, right behind the sidewalk,” Ermelindo says as he shows off the flourishing row. 

Ermelindo Matiello checks on his tomato plants every day.

Ermelindo and 20 other residents, plant and tend to a garden with help by students from nearby Steinhauer School. Students visit the hospital to help with various activities, including the garden, throughout the year. The school and hospital partnership has been running for more than 20 years. Gardening improves self-esteem, emotional well-being and fitness, and provides a great opportunity for socialization, says Recreational Therapist Carolyn Rein.

It is an activity for all ages, says Carolyn. “The kids enjoy the trip and the special attention they get when they come here.”

Having both groups work together helps the garden grow to its full potential. Ermelindo relishes the opportunity to share his wisdom.

“I help guide them and give them tips on the gardens I used to grow.”

Other health benefits


If you enjoy being around plants, it’s going to show. It’s going to make you feel better just because you’re handling them. For people who’ve had years of gardening experience, it can be a fond reminder of the past.


Gardeners often have improved self-esteem based on their power to create positive change in the world, nurturing a plant from seed to fruit-bearing, explains Carolyn.


Gardening is a great form of exercise. You have to move and stretch and bend and mix. You are using a variety of muscles and movements.


The St. Joseph’s gardening project brings people together to talk and work side by side, which is important, says Carolyn.

There are opportunities for people who don’t have a backyard to enjoy working with plants. Community gardens are collaborative projects, shared in an open workspace, that encourage beautifying neighbourhoods.

Being outside

When we get sun exposure, our bodies produce vitamin D. That helps increase calcium levels, which in turn will help fight against osteomalacia (softening of bones) and osteoporosis. Remember to apply sunscreen to avoid sunburns.

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