Hard-working volunteers create an abundance of beauty

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Michèle Redmond and Eileen Hunt are volunteer gardeners at Embassy West Senior Living: “We are plant caregivers.” Photo by Judith van Berkom.

Imagine being surrounded with all the beauty nature offers, and working for hours every week to bring this beauty to the lives of others.

Michèle Redmond and Eileen Hunt are volunteer gardeners at Embassy West Senior Living on Carling Avenue, and they work every day, rain or shine, outdoors from April to October and all winter long indoors.

Their results are transformative. It first began with a few strips of grass and several mature trees, and grew to include new garden beds and an ever-expanding landscape of flowers, hanging baskets, and flowering vines in contained pots.

Eileen Hunt lives in a compact post-war home in Westboro. Hunt’s husband, Ray, had knee surgery in February 2010, and since their house was too small and had too many stairs, he stayed at the Embassy West Senior Living for seven weeks.

At the end of March, 2010, Hunt, who originally came from the UK with a degree in horticulture from the University of Nottingham, offered to help with the flower gardens at Embassy West.

“I’ve always been interested in things growing,” Hunt says.

[note title=”Calling all gardeners and plant lovers” align=”right” width=”199″]We asked Eileen Hunt to tell us which plants she enjoys the most for the garden, and indoors as well. Here’s what she told us:

Amaryllis to cheer you in the winter

Pansies to get the season started

Tulips and daffodils to herald spring

Honeysuckle for hummingbirds and bees

Milkweed for the Monarch butterfly

Geraniums for their colour and tolerance

Heliotrope for its fragrance

Butterfly bush for butterflies and bees

Small carnations for indoors[/note]

Her father was a sheep breeder in England in the 1950s, and Hunt grew up as a true farmer’s daughter who was used to working long hours every day. She remembers attending agriculture shows with her father. Hunt was given “pieces of cacti” to nurture and by the time she went to university she had collected several hundred species of cacti.

Eileen Hunt immigrated with her husband and child to Canada in the 1960s and became a Canadian citizen in 1968. Settling in Calgary, Hunt spent twenty-five years working for Suncor Energy which grew from a privately owned company to Canada’s second largest fully integrated Oil and Gas company.

Retiring in 1997 at age 55, Hunt became involved in the world of seniors, serving on the Board of the Westside Health Network for eight years before moving to Ottawa in 2007.

Hunt volunteers with the Friends of Maplelawn gardens on Richmond Road in Ottawa and works on average 150 hours a year. She goes every day, no matter the season. “It’s beautiful in the winter,” she says. “I’m a stayer. I commit,” she adds.

Hunt is also an accomplished photographer and has produced a book of her photos of the gardens at the Embassy West.

Michèle Redmond, a simultaneous translator who lived in the arctic for 13 years, became a resident of the Embassy West in March 2014 to recover from unexpected loss of memory. She arrived when Hunt was on vacation and, as she explains, residents wouldn’t let her touch anything in the garden.

“Somebody already looks after the flowers,” they told her. But Redmond always loved gardening and couldn’t stay away.

Some pretty pots of geraniums near her room at Embassy West are what first attracted Redmond to get her hands dirty in the garden outside, and what keeps her going is the transformation that takes place every day from something that wasn’t there before.

“The garden is my salvation; we are plant caregivers,” she says.

Redmond remembers watching her grandmother in the garden at a young age. Although her memory is not so good, she intuitively knows what the plant is and where it goes. “It happens by itself,” she says.

“It’s not something you can teach, it’s an instinct.”

All seasons of the year, flowers in bloom surround Embassy West. Hunt overwinters as much as she can, and these plants bloom indoors in the dining area and lounges across several floors. Last year she brought in some amaryllis, which flowered over the Christmas season, bringing joy to both staff and residents of Embassy West.

When asked what motivates her, Hunt says it all comes down to the residents: “The people here are so grateful.”

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