Monday, June 7, 2010
There I was, arguably Canada’s worst gardener meeting with the countries most recognizable one. I met with Mark Cullen in the shade of one of the Veterans Centre’s many garden trees, and he looked right at home. As an author and broadcaster, Mark has spent decades in gardens, helping people hone their green thumbs. Now, this garden was helping his uncle, a resident of Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre, find peace and purpose. What goes around comes around!
Mark’s Uncle Tom, or Lawrence Cullen, has been at the Veterans Centre for just over a year. True to the Cullen name, he has also spent his life gardening. (This love affair started during the Second World War, where Uncle Tom helped tend the grounds of the prisoner camp he guarded). After the war, Uncle Tom enjoyed a nearly 40-year career at East York’s Parks and Recreation Department. But after losing his wife and developing dementia, Uncle Tom came to the Veterans Centre a year ago. Now, these Sunnybrook gardens have given him a renewed sense of purpose and pride.
Horticultural therapy is being used at the Veterans Centre as a way to enhance the treatment and care of patients living with dementia. Where patients may lose the ability to speak, reason and sequence, they seem not to lose their familiarity with nature. Gardening can also battle feelings of isolation, while reducing stress and aggression. After all, there is nothing more organic than planting a seed and watching it grow. Simple acts, big impact!
After spending a few hours with Mark and Uncle Tom, I left work feeling pretty inspired. On my way, I stopped by the gardening centre to pick up two cheery little flowerpots and a flower to go into each. Even if I’ve managed to kill more than my share of plants over the years, I would be remiss not to teach my own children the joys of nurturing new life from the ground up. Never too young, I say! And as I learned from Mark and Uncle Tom, never too old, either.