By Megan Christensen
More than a pretty spot to sit, the enabling garden in Riverside Park provides an opportunity for a recently disabled gardener to keep doing a beloved lifelong hobby.
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Sarah Mathison’s life changed radically, she said.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable and often disabling disease. MS attacks the central nervous system, affecting vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility, and it has mental and emotional impacts as well.
“It’s challenging to participate in things I’ve participated in my whole adult life,” she said with a hint of sadness in her otherwise cheerful voice. “This garden is something I look forward to.”
While working in her raised garden bed overlooking Speed River, Mathison soaks in the scenery and often speaks with passers-by.
“People of all ages are attracted to these gardens like butterflies,” she said, smiling.
“Always when I’m here, people stop and talk to me about my garden and share stories about theirs.”
With coriander and nasturtium flowers overflowing their confines and sweet peas winding their way up a support pole, Mathison picks off a few dead leaves hiding her ripening ground cherries.
Unlike cherries that grow on trees, the ground cherry is really a small tomato that grows inside a husk close to the dirt.
“I intended to grow an entirely edible garden, but was seduced by the sweet peas,” she said.
Mathison moved to Guelph in December 2012 from Duncan, a small city on Vancouver Island about an hour north of British Columbia’s capital, Victoria.
She made the move to be nearer to her adult children and their families.
“I came to Ontario because my grandchildren are here,” said Mathison.
Although it is her first season growing in the Enabling Gardens here, she worked on similar projects in British Columbia.
“A common interest in sustainability, good food and beautiful flowers is throughout the community,” she said explaining how she spends as much time as she can working on her little garden.
Time spent working in the garden has many positive returns, said the enabling garden’s horticultural therapist Lea Tran.
“The emotional benefits are wonderful and result in a better quality of life,” said Tran. “When I ask people why they come (to the garden), they tell me it helps them to relax and calm down.”
The outdoor space allows people to connect with nature and the environment, to learn new skills and to socialize, said Tran.
“I think the people who pass through enjoying the space appreciate all of the efforts of the participants and volunteers,” she said.
Mathison is grateful for the volunteers too.
“If it gets dry, or if I miss watering, the volunteers step in,” she said. “I’m immensely thankful to the board for overseeing this garden.”
Everything in the space has been thought out – from the way the garden and paths have been laid out to the tools they have available, which are easier for people with disabilities to use, said Mathison.
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By Megan Christensen