A Wigan war veteran has shown that both age and disability are not obstacles to a bit of artistic horticulture.
For Dennis Clements, who is blind and 92 years old, is getting a starring role at the presitgious Hampton Court Palace Flower Show later this month.
The Orrell pensioner has created a miniature Relaxation Garden, which won the award for the Best in Show Miniature Garden at a recent Blind Veterans’ Association’s event at its training and rehabilitation centre in Llandudno.
Dennis, born in 1925, joined the Royal Army Service Corps in 1943, before discharging in 1948 as a sergeant. His five years’ service involved various tours of Europe, where he was primarily responsible for the management of ambulances.
He was also involved in the D-Day landings, transporting diesel to the soldiers on the beach. After the war, Dennis worked as a foreman for Heinz, where he remained until his retirement at the age of 57. Unfortunately his eye sight began to deteriorate 15 years ago.
He said: “I’ve got age-related macular degeneration. It was a gradual process but it means that I’m now more or less blind in my right eye. I’ve also had merkel cell skin cancer which has affected my left eyelid. I’ve had to have it reconstructed with skin from my cheek. My family jokes that I now grow whiskers from my eyelid!”
Fortunately for Dennis, his doctors at St Paul’s Hospital in Liverpool told him he was eligible for the free lifelong support offered by Blind Veterans UK for whom he is full of praise.
For Dennis, gardening has always been a part of his life. He said: “After the war my wife and I moved into a new council house, it was a lovely property with a big garden. That’s when I started gardening. Half the land was dedicated to vegetables and flowers, and the other half was for Sylvia to play in!
“We had a greenhouse and, if I’m honest, I think there’s where my real passion lay. My wife and I got absolutely hooked on it. We spent an awful lot of time in gardening centres, learning about propagating and taking cuts, delving into any gardening magazine we could find.”
Sylvia herself recalls just how central gardening was, and indeed remains, in her father’s life. She says: “He’s always got green fingers. Even now we go to garden centres regularly. He looks after my plants for me, his tomatoes are to die for!
“His sight loss had a real impact on his confidence, but when it comes to gardening he’s completely unchanged. He’ll be out there at seven in the morning, pottering, doing whatever he can until it’s dark.”
Dennis said he was delighted to be having his miniature garden exhibited at such an important event.