Like everyone, we were stopped in our tracks this year by the pandemic. Through the disturbing, uncharted-territory of lockdown, the thing that made us feel grounded, purposeful, comforted, was going to the gardens, sowing, planting, tending the plants that we knew would bloom in better days, and which we hoped to eventually share with our loyal, supportive, lovely subscribers. It felt very strange to be there alone instead of with our clients, most of whom were clinically vulnerable, and volunteers. We did a lot of thinking.
We realised we need to do things differently in the future. Many pieces of the precarious jigsaw that we put together to create and sustain a social enterprise, with a mix of grants and earned income, have been pushed off the table. It is our greatest regret that under these circumstances we can no longer sustain community Garden Clubs to assist people with dementia to actively garden. But we are even more determined that the lovely therapeutic gardens we have created in Worthing continue to be breathing spaces for people with dementia, and for anyone who needs their solace and restorative power.
So, in July we invited small numbers of volunteers back to help us tend our gardens and tiny flower farm, following a Covid-safe protocol and respecting Government guidelines. We had a tremendous boost from the Rampion Fund at Sussex Community Foundation and were awarded a grant to offer flower-farm work experiences to students with either learning difficulties/autism or Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People, as well as a therapeutic and creative programme for women in recovery from trauma, and opportunities for anyone to learn about the amazing diversity, beauty and sustainability of seasonal cut-flowers and Sussex wildflowers. Whenever possible we will try to offer activities in the real, wondrous, natural world but we have also updated our website with all our plans for 2020/21 and we've started a You Tube channel to share what we do and offer programmes remotely. Our dementia-friendly gardens are open for people to enjoy and we are delighted that other therapeutic organisations are using them to work with clients in a nature-based way. We don't know what's ahead, but we know that we all need to be connected to nature to get through this.
Introduction to Breathing Spaces and tour of our flower-growing space at Maybridge Keystone Centre and wildflower site in Sompting. https://youtu.be/K6VHikgcjEA
Harvesting, conditioning and packaging our flowers https://youtu.be/QktfqSB5UWI
Four months of growing and making bouquets. From the bright, airy wildness of July, into exuberant August, the warm glow of September and the richness of October. The dahlias and chrysanthemums were the last to finish, and what a finale!
We so enjoyed growing and preparing flowers for our wonderful subscribers and we can't thank them enough for their support. All our groups have been involved in preparing beds, sowing, watering and tending, and it's brought us all a lot of joy. We were so lucky to meet Mike Tristram, Sompting Estate, and be given the opportunity to harvest some of their wildflowers early in the season. And we had a surprise gift of dahlia tubers and gladioli bulbs from Phillipa, one of our subscribers, salvaged from Haskins' throw-away bin! We like to think we have started reviving, in a small and sustainable way, the Worthing heritage of flower farming, which included gladioli, chrysanthemums and carnations.
British cut-flowers are still available if they are grown under cover, enhanced with greenery from shrubs, berries, seed pods and dried flowers. A florist can order them for you, so you can keep enjoying (fairly) local, seasonal flowers from other growers until we start our cycle of growing and harvesting next year. This is what we are planning for 2020:
In the meantime enjoy the turning of the seasons, the stillness of winter and the anticipation of new growth to come.
Lisa and I learnt about the joy of flowers first from our mums. My mum, Clarice, loved and grew them all her life, arranged them for the village church and sold them at our gate with an honesty box. Lisa's mum Jenny is a flower grower too, a very talented florist and she delights our mind and memory gardening clients every week with a small posy of flowers for them to take home. But it is our care home gardening clients who have perhaps taught us more than anyone to really get the joy of flowers. Their intense responses to the beauty, feel, scent, detail and wonder of flowers and the associations and memories they stimulate made us want more flowers in our lives. And so the idea of a tiny flower farm, to share gorgeous, seasonal, sustainably grown blooms with more people and by selling the flowers we grow to generate funds that will support the therapeutic work we do. A virtuous circle of joy. if you are interested in joining us on our flower farming journey, do get in touch.
Having just given a taster session (and we did start with actual tasting of seasonal berries!) to counsellors at the Life Centre for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, I've been thinking a lot about parents and children gardening together. Actually I think about my own mum and dad a lot when I garden. I remember my mum teaching me to take cuttings, her love of flowers, my dad diligently side-shooting tomatoes in the greenhouse. Many people we work with talk about their memories of their parents and grandparents when they smell a particular herb or see a flower that carries meaning for them. Those bonds last a lifetime and that's one of the reasons we are offering 'Growing with your Children' as a therapeutic course over the summer holidays for women survivors of trauma and other mental health challenges and their children. We hope it will be the foundation for a future of enjoying the restorative power of nature and gardening and a source of happy, positive memories for both.
Much of the feedback from our annual stakeholder meeting in our Welcome Woodland Garden in April was about people wanting to connect with each other at community events like ours. Sharing real food, friendly company, in beautiful, welcoming outdoor spaces. It's a real human need and it can include all ages and people from all walks of life. We held another such event last week at the May Close Community Allotment, with our partners We Are FoodPioneers. Our very mixed allotment group joined up with local residents, people from our other gardening groups and courses, a few local councillors, carers, volunteers and supporters for a scrumptious BBQ and a couple of hours of companionship and warmth. It's simple, it's needed, and it makes everyone feel good. We will be doing more of this - watch this (breathing) space.
Who knew that AXA Insurance have a Stress Index! It says that 41% of people who do gardening for only 2 hours a week report that it improved their physical health, making it one of the best ways to deal with stress. So it's important to get those therapeutic effects all year round. We find lots to do in our Community Garden Clubs for people with dementia during bad weather, sowing and growing plants inside the cosy yurt or garden shed, and even the snow didn't stop us! Now spring is here we will be outdoors whenever we can, but with shelter as back-up whenever it's needed.
Three different strands of happiness complement each other to create lasting joy: pleasure, purpose and pride, especially when people feel secure and minimise stress. These are the recent findings reported in National Geographic Nov 2017 about the world's happiest countries. We're not surprised by the findings. With access to nature and gardening, we see our clients go home happy because of these things every week.
"I love the soil, it's a great friend, such a great friend, it's what motivates me."