Horticulture therapy program discovers talented octogenarian

Volunteer gardener Mark Boulware displays his handiwork.

COLONIAL BEACH—In 2018, the Northern Neck Master Gardeners (NNMG) expanded their existing horticulture therapy program to include the Westmoreland Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Colonial Beach.

There they were delighted to meet Mark Boulware, an active 85 year-old with real gardening talent.

Boulware hails from Bowling Green and he lived in nearby historic Port Royal. He worked as a dishwasher at Horne’s Restaurant and enjoyed gardening his entire life. Boulware entered Westmoreland Healthcare in 1998 where he is an avid gardener growing beautiful tomatoes, cucumbers, roses, snapdragons, marigolds, petunias and phlox.

The NNMGs approached activities director Suzie Gimbel at Westmoreland Healthcare earlier this year about a collaborative horticulture program. Gimbel was elated.

“Having the compassionate and caring Master Gardeners provide hands-on therapeutic activities has greatly expanded the overall quality of life for our seniors. It fits perfectly with our dedication to providing the highest level of care and service to each resident, ” said Gimbel.

“Boulware is a man of diverse interests,” said NNMG Carla Kidwell. “He is an active participant at his Baptist church and enjoys all types of arts and crafts activities such as drawing and painting. He loves to play checkers and listen to rock and roll and Johnny Cash. Of course, his day would not be complete without his beloved gardening.”

The program began in February, making pine cone bird feeders and salt clay ornaments. For the spring planting season, residents planted seeds and those seedlings were then planted in the courtyard gardens, raised beds and pots, Kidwell said.

“This is when Boulware went to work to make magic happen,” said Kidwell. “He is out there every day watering and weeding the beds and letting us know if we need to fertilize or assist in any way. The gardens are delivering not only lovely, cheerful flowers but tasty tomatoes.”

Since 2008, NNMGs have provided monthly horticultural therapy activities at the Orchard in Warsaw. They have customized year-round activities adapted to the challenges often brought on by normal aging, as well as conditions such as depression and dementia.

NNMG, under the auspices of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), can guide other facilities interested in setting a horticultural therapy program.

Contact HelpDeskNNMG@gmail.com with the subject line “Horticulture as Therapy,” or call the office VCE office in Northumberland, 580-5694.


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