Gordon Coolidge points to the peony bush at the back of Barvinok Apartments in Edmonton’s North East. He planted the bushes in the spring but knows, as the summer days are becoming fewer and fewer in number for the year, he has some work to do before the fall.
“I have to take the leaves and split them open,” he explains. “They need to breathe during the winter kill. Otherwise, they’ll suffocate and won’t regrow next spring.”
Coolidge, always something of a green thumb, kept up his garden while he lived and worked out of Westlock up until 2006. He moved into Barvinok Place after he suffered a stroke during an 11 and a half hour triple by-pass surgery. He explains he was bounced between hospitals for more than six months to see different specialists before finally deciding moving into a seniors apartment was his best option.
“I moved in before GEF Seniors Housing started managing the building, and I right away noticed that the garden hadn’t been kept up,” Coolidge recalls. “I started by digging out the dry clay balls from over the years and I put in all the soil for a healthy garden.”
What started off as activity to keep Coolidge busy evolved into a passion that he credits for helping keep him healthy and happy. He explains that gardening is no easy task and is a full body workout that keeps the 79 year old active.
The garden at Barvinok Apartments has helped to brighten up and add colour to the Beverly Heights neighbourhood and plenty of people in the community have taken notice. In the summer of 2017, the garden was nominated for a Front Yards in Bloom Award, which is a recognition program for outdoor space that adds to a greener and more sustainable urban environment.
The Front Yards in Bloom program is run by the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Horticultural Society, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. It sees postal workers and other volunteers walk through neighbourhoods to find spaces that have aesthetically pleasing gardens or growing edible fruits and vegetables. The best spaces receive a nomination card to place in their garden. The official awards will be given out on August 24, 2017, at the former Royal Alberta Museum.
“I always had neighbours coming by to take pictures and tell me that they love the garden,” Coolidge explains. “But I never expected a recognition like a Front Yards in Bloom nomination.”
As he approaches 80 years old, Coolidge has no plans to ever slow down on his gardening. He walks through his garden, pointing out the weeds he pulled before adding the pots of coleus plants alternating in purple and green, and revelling in how many bees are working hard to pollinate with the help of the flowers he planted.
“You need to have something to help you get up in the morning and get you through the day,” Coolidge says. “I don’t want to sit around and get old. You’re never old until you admit it. Until then, I’ll spend all day working in the garden.”