Top News

Horticulture therapy increasing quality of life for local seniors

BIBLE HILL – The first thing Hazel MacKeen thinks about when she wakes up is expanding her green thumb skills.

Amy Unicomb, left, and Hazel MacKeen have become fast friends thanks to their love of gardening. Unicomb is offering a horticultural therapy program at Vimy Court and is excited to see the benefits the initiative has on seniors. Monique Chiasson – Truro Daily News

The 88-year-old Vimy Court resident is eager to tend to her plants and help with others’ plants in the seniors’ complex. It’s a love that goes back 50 years when she lived in Quebec and would often get up at 6 a.m. to transplant plants.

“I grew hundreds and hundreds of annuals … plants are like newborn babies. I love to take care of them and to nurture them. It gives me goosebumps,” said MacKeen.

So when 21-year-old Amy Unicomb
decided to offer a horticulture therapy program at Vimy Court, MacKeen couldn’t have been more excited.

“It makes me happy. I feel good inside,” said MacKeen of the program that includes choosing seeds, harvesting, transplanting, growing items in the outdoor raised garden beds, and special events like salad days, to name a few projects.

offers the program at Vimy Court a few times a month. For her, it’s a passion for “improving the quality of life for geriatrics.” That desire began when she was 13 and visiting her grandfather in the hospital before he died.

“I felt something was missing when my grandfather was in the hospital,” she said, adding that sparked her to begin volunteering at the former Colchester Regional Hospital.

She offered recreation activities for patients but “wanted to expand and offer something more hands-on with patients that they could work on goals and see the progression.”

That led to Unicomb
taking, on her own time, the horticulture therapy program at the Dalhousie Agricultural College last year, with the desire of offering her skills in seniors’ homes.

And now, there are upwards of 10 residents at Vimy Court who joyfully participate in the program.

“There’s a reflection of how they take care of themselves when they are taking care of the plants. It helps them socialize, they relive positive memories from the past with gardening, it stimulates their senses and helps with their physical, mental and emotional health,” said Unicomb, a Truro resident who is also taking the bachelor of animal science program at Dal AC.

“And they can see their efforts (growing). It’s an achievement.”

Unicomb thanks Vimy Court and the greenhouse manager at Dal AC for helping with the initiative. But, more community assistance is always welcome. If anyone has manure or other gardening-related items to donate, or to volunteer in any capacity, email

As for the future, Unicomb would love to see her initiative expand to other places.

“I’d love to eventually see horticulture therapy at every seniors’ home,” she said.

Twitter: tdnMonique


Recent Stories