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Camden News - by TOM FOOT and JAMES DAVIES
Published: 16 July 2009
A triumphant Sean Kanavan, with his dog Khara, receives his Camden In Bloom award from Mayor Omar Faruque Ansari and Camden Council’s head of street policy Sam Monck at the Town Hall prize-giving ceremony on Monday
A triumphant Sean Kanavan, with his dog Khara, receives his Camden In Bloom award from Mayor Omar Faruque Ansari and Camden Council’s head of street policy Sam Monck at the Town Hall prize-giving ceremony on Monday
He’s blooming great!

Street gardening award for man who went blind after contracting meningitis

IT has been a long road to recovery for Sean Kanavan after a tragic misdiagnosis of meningitis robbed him of his sight for life.
It took a full year before he could make himself a cup of tea, let alone go out for a walk on his own.
But 12 years later, the 53-year-old has won a Camden In Bloom award for his contribution to floral displays in Ryland Road, Kentish Town, where Mr Kanavan lives.
“People say to me they walk down past my house especially just to look at the display,” he said. “They say how nice all the flowers are and ask me about the colours. I say, ‘that’s a nice pink there and that’s a nice deep red’. But I just assume that’s what they look like. That’s why I call myself the accidental gardener.”
Mr Kanavan came to Kilburn from County Mayo in Ireland in 1969. He had been working flat out as a carpenter on a building site in the run-up to Christmas 1997, when he collapsed into bed one night with a thundering headache. A doctor diagnosed a mild bout of flu, but Mr Kanavan had contracted meningitis and his brain had started to swell. After two weeks lying in bed at home, he went blind.
“My brain was swelling but the painkillers and antibiotics the doctor gave me for flu were just numbing the pain,” Mr Kanavan. “If it wasn’t for them, I would have gone straight to hospital. It was cold that winter, but the doctor didn’t really check me out properly.”
At St Mary’s Hospital, he was given three days to live. “That frightened the life out of me,” said Mr Kanavan. “But I struggled back. I was in a wheelchair for a while and gradually I got the use of my right hand and then my left. Sometimes my co-ordination would go. When I was walking down the street I looked like something out of the Ministry of Silly Walks. It was all very frustrating. I was angry with myself. I couldn’t do the things that a two-year-old child could do.
“When I made that cup of tea by myself for the first time, I was so happy. I just started shouting ‘yes’ and jumping up and down. Then I thought, if I can make a cup of tea – what else can I do?”
Mr Kanavan started gardening after being moved into temporary accommodation in Turnpike Lane by Camden Council.
“I spent four years out there before they could find me a council home in Camden,” he said. “That’s pretty ridiculous really, there is a problem with council housing in Camden. The only good thing about the place was that it had a massive garden – and I set about caring for it.”
After moving to Kentish Town in 2001, Mr Kanavan continued the hobby, transforming his front garden with a colourful windowbox display.
“My family are farmers back in Ireland so maybe that’s why I like nature,” he said. “But in London, I think it’s really important to look after your street. People used to dump their beer cans and what have you in the dustbin – but now people have a little bit more respect.”
The Camden in Bloom competition is run every year and has nine categories including best front garden. Entrants were judged on their environmental impact as well as originality and appearance. Awards were handed out at a ceremony at the Town Hall on Monday. Mr Kanavan added: “I’m really pleased that we won the Best Street award. Things are looking up round here. I’m never going to see again, but I always get better at being blind.”

Gardens glow... the other winners

Best food growing: Allan Jenkins, Mary Wood and Howard Sooley
Best balcony: Muriel Grant
Best community-run garden: Torriano estate
Best front garden: Edward Brooks
Best housing estate: Tonbridge House
Best wildlife friendly garden: Mike Cookson-Taylor
Special award Wildlife friendly garden design: Claudia Utermann
Best business frontage: Montague on the Gardens Hotel

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