Gardening proves a boon to care home residents, as a walled garden is restored to its former glory.
But what really caught her eye was not the lawns, pond or mature trees but a patch of ground that had long been hidden under rambling weeds.
Straightaway, it became her goal to restore the forgotten feature to its former glory – as a Victorian walled garden.
Eighteen months later, after many hours of toil by the home’s maintenance man Martin Brown and Alison herself, it now once again resembles the garden that must have been the pride and joy of Admiral Sir Baldwin Wake Walker, for whom The Depperhaugh was built as a family home at Hoxne, near Diss, in the late 1860s.
She said: “The Victorians grew everything from figs, peaches, apples, pears, raspberries and peas to all the usual root vegetables. Here in north Suffolk there would have probably been asparagus as well.”
Alison said there was a growing weight of scientific evidence that gardening and working in the fresh outdoors – albeit not as fresh as her family home in the Scottish Highlands – had great therapeutic benefits for people living with dementia or other mental health conditions.
For her, it was something she came to understand at a young age during visits to see her grandfather, who had been consultant psychiatrist at a hospital in Aberdeen.
“His patients ran a vegetable garden themselves. It gave them such obvious satisfaction and an immense sense of self-worth,” she said.
Plants are now in the soil and Alison is looking forward to her first harvest later in the summer.
She said: “We’re growing everything from strawberries, gooseberries and raspberries to peas, beans and potatoes. It will be reminiscent of the war years for the residents. It will be traditional produce.” Alison said her more mobile residents could not wait to get outside in the sunshine, and it was her intention to involve them more and more in gardening.
She said: “In the future we will be looking to have some raised beds so people can do gardening even if they are in wheelchairs.
“We will also be improving seating areas so they can sit and enjoy the garden. It’s very therapeutic for people to watch others gardening.”
Over time, Alison is planning extend wheelchairs access into more areas of The Depperhaugh’s delightful grounds, including a woodland.
“We have a lot of garden birds here,” she said. “We want to have a place for residents to sit and watch and enjoy the wildlife. Gardens and gardening have proved to relax those with dementia, anxiety and depression.”
If you would like to volunteer your services to help with the garden or pond restoration, email depperhaugh.manager@ kingsleyhealthcare.co.uk