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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI Master Gardeners help Bristol Veterans Home bloom

BRISTOL, R.I. -- June 28, 2000 -- As residents of the Bristol Veterans Home stroll from the lunchroom to the day room to the main lobby and along the building's many winding corridors, they are nearly always within view of beautiful flower and vegetable gardens. Most of the residents' individual rooms overlook colorful blooms in every direction, too.

That's due in large part to Bob Burch and his team of volunteer Master Gardeners trained by the University of Rhode Island. To complete their gardening training, they must put in 50 hours of volunteer time at URI or one of several community gardening projects. The Bristol Veterans Home project has attracted more than a dozen trainees, many of whom continue to work on the project even after their required volunteer hours have been completed.

"We pay particular attention to the areas around the focal points of the home," said Burch, a retired corporate executive from Portsmouth who has volunteered more than 1,000 hours there, "especially the main entrance, the places where guests go, and where the residents spend most of their time. We make sure those areas look great."

The project was initiated in 1998 as an intergenerational program involving the special education department at Mount Hope High School, URI Master Gardeners, and the Veterans Home. Mount Hope students visit the site once or twice a week during the school year to learn about gardening, receive job training, and discover whether they're interested in landscaping as a career.

"The home provides the site and materials, and the residents get a sensory experience and socialization," explained Pamela Dow, activities director at the home and liaison to the gardening project.

Dow notes that the project has benefited the home in many ways.

"Before the project began, the grounds were quite sparse," she said. "Now the place looks great, and it has been very beneficial to our residents. It has taken some residents who may have been withdrawn and helped them to slowly come out of their shells. It has been a great experience for them."

Veterans Home resident Larry Santos agrees.

"It's always nice to talk with the gardeners," he said. "Sometimes I even feel like grabbing a shovel and a rake and helping out. Once, when I told them about the area outside my ward, they came right over and planted tomatoes outside my window. I think the world of them."

The residents have a particular interest in tomatoes.

"Maybe it brings back a nostalgic feeling for them," said Burch. "They always ask us to plant tomatoes. Some residents will even come out and water them for us." Adds Dow with a smile, "And if there's a tomato missing, we hear about it."

On a tour of the 21 gardens at the home, Burch pointed out where the thousands of bulbs, perennials, annuals and shrubs have been planted by the Master Gardeners, and reminded himself of all the work still to be accomplished. Though all the gardens are in bloom now, Burch has plans for establishing additional gardens in new locations around the facility.

"We're never done," he said. "Maintenance goes on all through the growing season, so the residents always have something to look at."

Even in the winter months, the Master Gardeners maintain their regular schedule at the home.

"We get down to a core of about five volunteers in the winter," said Burch. "But that's when we do our cuttings in the greenhouse, start seeds for all our spring plants, work on holiday wreaths and other indoor displays, and make plans for the next growing season."

URI landscape design students have also participated in the program by preparing what Dow calls a "dreamscape," a comprehensive landscape plan to make the home's grounds accessible to wheelchair-bound residents, including paths, picnic areas, benches and other features.

Funding for most of the gardening and landscape improvements comes from the Veterans Home, but local nurseries and the URI Master Gardeners Association often make donations to the project, too.

In addition to Burch, the core volunteers are Gordon Stenning, a retired Episcopal priest from Portsmouth, Amine Maalouf, a retired surgeon from Fall River, Marguerite Hardisty, a retired teacher from Barrington, and Karl Van Petten of Middletown.

Anyone interested in training to become a URI Master Gardener should contact Rosanne Sherry at 874-2929 or visit the Master Gardening website at The next training program begins in January on URI's Kingston Campus and runs weekly through April.

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For Information: Todd McLeish 874-7892

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