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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

Project puts plants within easy reach

At age 93, Vivian O'Toole can bake a heavenly loaf of bread. I can also tell you that the homemade cinnamon rolls she baked for me didn't even last until morning once my kids got home from school.

But baking is only one of Mrs. O'Toole's many hobbies. She also loves to turn the soil and watch things grow in her Temperance backyard. Her daughter, Marge Sander, says it has been tough for Mrs. O'Toole to walk on the uneven yard.

"Mom is very independent and we want to make it easy for her to get to her garden," Mrs. Sander says. Mrs. O'Toole is having a deck built on her house so she can fuss with her tomatoes and beans while she scampers to the kitchen to check on her homemade dinner rolls.

When Mrs. O'Toole was rearing her four children in Temperance, she says the family didn't have a big garden. "We didn't have the time to take care of one," she says. "Besides, we didn't have enough room." She began gardening about 15 years ago.

Vivian O'Toole Vivian O'Toole
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"I started out with some easy things," she says. "Mostly out of curiosity. One year, I grew zucchini and butternut and acorn squash. I just let it run in the garden. It did really well. I had so much that I also made all of my relatives happy, too."

Wayne Pavlika, a contractor in Bedford Township, came up with a common-sense plan that allows Mrs. O'Toole to enjoy gardening in her backyard.

"We needed to design something that was very useful for Mrs. O'Toole, not inconvenient," says Mr. Pavlika, adding that every situation is different.

"With Mrs. O'Toole's project, we wanted her to be able to reach her flower beds while using her walker. She thought it would also be handy to be able to sit down while she was gardening, so we built a seat that goes around the inside of each planter box."

Mrs. O'Toole's new garden goes all the way around a deck just off her bedroom. Three long boxes are 18-by-10 feet at about 20 inches above the deck. Two corner planter boxes are two feet square and are about 24 inches above the deck. Mr. Pavlika put the U-shaped bench at 16 inches, which is about standard chair height.

When the planters are filled with soil, Mrs. O'Toole plans to get her fingers dirty right away - just in time for Mother's Day, when she hopes her kids will surprise her with a few tomato plants. She says she has plans to plant some Swiss chard, peppers, and yellow beans in her handy garden.

While the contractor meets with Mrs. Sander to go over some basic details, Mrs. O'Toole leans over to me and says with a chuckle, "They have it all figured out on how they want to do it, but I'll end up doing it my way."



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