Earthy Delight

One year ago, the Blueberry Lane Therapeutic Garden was the subject of some early stage plans and a fundraising effort. Today the main paving-stone path has just been set down, a few flowers are in the ground and work is underway to get it completed

Michele Huston's mother grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. She grew up planting, nurturing, harvesting. For her, the earth meant life.

Her mother is now 69 and, for the past seven years, Alzheimer's disease has been robbing her of her memories. She now lives in the Elm Lane part of Overlander Residential Care.

Huston's uncle lives in the Blueberry Lane for residents with Alzheimer's who need extra care and supervision.

When the silty dirt was officially turned over Thursday on the Blueberry Lane Therapeutic Garden, Huston was there.

"It means family gathering when we come to visit," she said.

She has been amazed to see the change that gardening can bring in her mother and others like her.

"Seeing my mom garden - she knew what to do, she relaxed . . . . A lot of these people, it goes back to their younger days."

For a daughter who has lost a big part of her mother to Alzheimer's, watching her do something that's so familiar and so natural has moved Huston.

"It's so beautiful to see that normalcy," she said.

"You see her gardening and having a good day - that's a good moment."

Her uncle is in a wheelchair, so he can't dig in the dirt as easily. But she expected he'll find peace in the outdoors and greenery that the garden is becoming.

"It's the calm, the environment," she said.

Elm Lane has flower pots residents can plant and tend. Blueberry Lane had a stark "compound," as one employee called it.

That compound Is part way through its transformation into a private place where residents can wander connected paths, plant flowers or vegetables, sit on the grass or just spend quiet time.

Already the 25 residents of Blueberry Lane watch from the windows as landscapers and volunteers are hard at work creating the paths, installing underground sprinklers and laying the other groundwork for the garden.

Some of them have already planted tomatoes, petunias and geraniums in some of the garden's first planters.

Sherri Read, Overlander's manager of recreation therapy, is still pitching for more donations. Last year, she put out a call for $60,000 to create the garden and she got generous donations that surpassed that.

But even that $75,000 and volunteer help hasn't been enough. Now she wants another $25,000 (or more) so the garden can be done well and done right.

She envisions potters benches with trowels and claws and gardening gloves for the residents to use. A couple of small water features in addition to the pond already in the works. Lighting for nighttime walks in the garden, seating areas and a barbecue for family visits.

"There are no other gardens in Kamloops like this," she said.

"We want it to be usable, not like a park."

Residents will be free to come and go at will in the garden, which has high fencing for privacy as well as safety. It'll be open year round and will likely be decorated for special events like Christmas.

Denji Kobayashi of Koby's Landscaping got involved when he happened to walk past a sign showing the garden plans and realized some of it was high maintenance. He went to a meeting to give input, and, as they say, the rest is history.

What makes this job different from most he does is the level of appreciation he gets.

"There's always a feeling of gratitude. People are thankful you're doing something not just for profit."

Kobayashi is providing his expertise at a discounted rate and he has donated a lot of his time.

Coincidentally, back in the 1940s, his family bought five acres across the street from Blueberry Lane. He has two aunts and two uncles still living on some of that land.

In the Blueberry Lane garden, in a round flower-filled planter surrounding a lilac shrub, there's a concrete stepping stone painted pink with a ladybug in the centre. "Hilda's garden," the green letters spell out.

Hilda was a resident of Blueberry Lane years ago. Read said recreation staff have made similar garden stones in memory of families and residents that are placed throughout the Overlander grounds.

And so while the residents who use those gardens might have lost many memories, they will be remembered.

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