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Growing up his green-thumbed paradise
Disabled resident reinvigorated by garden boxes
Albert Patenaude has more thyme on his hands than he knows what to do with.
The avid gardener also has an abundance of basil, oregano, rosemary, spinach, cucumbers, peas and carrots, to name a few.
That’s because Patenaude — who has post-polio syndrome — has been busy tending to three recently-built garden boxes that have revolutionized the backyard of his St. Vital home.
Having contracted polio at the age of four, Patenaude battled back and worked in the television industry and studied massage therapy before the syndrome — a condition that can impact polio survivors years after recovery from the initial attack — hit in 1998.
"My legs got weaker, my breathing became heavier and the symptoms slowly got worse," Patenaude said, noting there was a 10-year period when he couldn’t garden at all.
"I couldn’t bend down and weed and harvest myself, so I needed help. I had to delegate," he added, with a wry smile and a glance at his wife, Joan. "I was always relying on other people to come over and you end up micromanaging."
Then the couple had a new fence put in this May. One thing led to another and they began researching garden boxes. This resulted in a redesigned yard space — and a new lease on life for Patenaude’s green thumbs.
The boxes are made with planks of treated, bolted wood and laced with a heavy gauge plastic to separate the soil from the base to prevent any chemical seepage.
"This has changed my life. It keeps me focused and keeps my mind off the pain. The satisfaction is humongous," Patenaude said, pointing to plant bearing more than 70 still-green tomatoes.
Despite missing the start of growing season, Patenaude has already reaped the benefits of the boxes by utilizing every inch of available space.
"With a traditional garden, you need working space between the rows. That’s the beauty of the boxes — you have less planting space but more produce," he said.
"I know how these herbs and vegetables plant, and I know how they behave, so I strategically put them where they will maximize space."
Patenaude noted two other improvements now that his crops are elevated — the plants are getting more even sunshine and "they are less susceptible to bugs, grubs and insects."
"Now I can watch for, identify and eliminate blight straight away and make a mixture to eliminate fungus."
Joan said it’s been wonderful watching her husband getting his hands in the soil again.
"He’s always been a gardener, so it does my heart good to see him out there," she said, noting the couple had a gazebo built a few years ago.
"We can’t travel because of his condition, so this is our recreation. We hold gazebo parties for family and friends, which are sometimes impromptu."
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