Resident Frank Averill, right, speaks with his daughter Sharla Cummings at the garden. The barrier provides additional safety, with an amplifying system allowing them to talk. The amplifying system was designed specifically for these types of visits. Courtesy photo

SCARBOROUGH — What was once a patch of land accessible to only a fraction of residents at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough is now a bustling garden that’s become a safe place for residents to meet with their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Charles Spinney lays pavers in the Scarborough garden pre-pandemic. Courtesy photo

Charles Spinney, of Westbrook, chose to work on the garden last year for his Eagle Scout project. Adding flowers and grading the land to make it accessible to the disabled allowed the garden to be used by nearly all residents. Spinney finished up some of the work this winter before the pandemic, without knowing that the garden would take on a crucial role as a place for residents to visit with their loved ones as an outdoor place to meet while maintaining social distance.

“It’s peaceful, quiet, pretty, so we thought what better location to have families meet,” said Katie Berthiaume, director of recreational therapy at the Veterans’ Home.

Staff installed a plastic barrier across the paved part of the garden, allowing people to meet comfortably while ensuring a safe social distance.

An audio amplifying system was also designed and adapted for these visits, Berthiaume said, allowing both parties to hear each other despite the barriers and distance.

“It feels really good to have it used,” Spinney said. “Before we made this only about 2% of residents could use it, now most all of them can.”


And, “It’s doing more than planned before,” he said.

Spinney, a 15-year-old Baxter Academy student, has plans to expand and further beautify the garden but has to wait for the pandemic to subside before he can return to the Veterans’ Home campus.

“We are adding plaques to the benches and are going to add lights under the rails for darker hours,” he said. “We are also going to add more flowers to represent each branch of the military.”

Paul J. Robie, 78, of Sanford, served as an Army medic during the Vietnam War, worked at York Hospital and was active in local cemetery and veterans’ groups.

The plan is to have color-coordinated flowers for each branch.

I like a yellow and red scene for Marines and to have (the flowers) go with the flags of each branch,” Robie said in a previous interview with the American Journal. 

Spinney got the idea to plant the military branch flowers from Paul Robie, a Vietnam War veteran and Veterans’ Home resident who died April 23 from COVID-19.


The Forecaster reported 34 positive cases and 14 deaths among the Veterans’ Home’s residents, and 25 positive cases among the 200 staff members tested, as of May 6.

Josh Scroggins, director of development and communications, declined to comment this week on the number of positive cases at the Veterans’ Home since May, but he said “we’ve gone a fair amount of time without a positive test.”

“Our families are trying to breathe and move beyond it, and there is a lot of great things happening like this garden,” Scroggins said.

Spinney is looking forward to the time he can safely return to the garden.

“I will be doing that as soon as possible, hopefully, when I can get right back in the garden pending the Veterans Home’s approval,” Spinney said. 

“We’ve heard how nice it was from families, and we are working with (Charles) on a future date for more work he wants to do,” Berthiaume said.

“I am just happy about this project and how it’s been used to help the veterans in the way it has,” Spinney said.

Comments are not available on this story.