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
"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 It has taken some residents who may have been withdrawn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
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 www.uri.edu/ce/ceec/mastergardener.html. 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