Our Peace Garden is a very special space much loved by everyone who uses it. Volunteer Eileen Ewen has been involved with it since before anything was planted and it was just an idea in the head of community member Lya Vollering, the driving force behind the project. As a volunteer with Let’s Get Growing’s therapeutic gardening scheme, she has supported them through the seasons come rain or shine. Last autumn she spoke at our volunteers’ meeting about what makes the garden special.
“The Peace Garden is a massive credit to Lya – becoming now just what she originally envisaged. It is nearly two acres of south facing garden which includes a meditation/quiet area, wildlife pond, herb garden, vegetable beds, fruit bushes and trees, a polytunnel, a creation walk and play area.
The fruit and vegetables grown there come to the house for use in the retreat centre and any surplus is sold to local pubs and restaurants to help support the therapeutic gardening scheme.
There is also an indoor space, the Sanctuary, lovingly built from wood from the estate, which offers a cosy shelter from the elements for group activities and rest.
Lots of people use the Peace Garden in lots of different ways, but my involvement is with Let’s Get Growing’s therapeutic gardening scheme. Around half of the participants come through the Alzheimer’s Society, the others come because they are facing challenges in their lives or experiencing health or mental health problems. They range between 30 and 80+ and come regularly, or for a short spell depending on their needs. We try to create a sense of community in therapeutic surroundings.
The project is genuinely inclusive. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will be treasured, respected and loved. We really do try our best to do whatever enriches people’s lives. We try to get a connection with each person as they are now – meeting them where they are at that point in their lives. We touch the lives of carers too. They are part of our wider community and they can talk to us about what is affecting them.
You might wonder what we do? The day starts and ends with a circle where everyone can – and does! – talk. That’s quite an achievement. It’s amazingly powerful and great to see in action.
We have lunch at the house which everyone loves, and naturally there is quite a bit of gardening. Of course that is tailored to what each person can manage. For people with Alzheimer’s we need to be flexible. One participant used to be in charge of a team, so we gave him a director’s chair and he directed us! Everyone was happy.
Sometimes we have a walk. One man’s Alzheimer’s was affecting his vision and we noticed that one day in the snow he was overcome with the beauty of what he could see. It was such a profound experience that one of us sat with him for quite some time to let him get the most he could from it. After that, for some months while he was well enough, one of us would walk with him to let him recapture that experience.
Another memory I have is of two men who had each by that stage lost the ability to take much part in the gardening and didn’t really have any functional language. We used to keep footballs in the garden, and the two of them used to have great fun playing ball together. It might not have been gardening, but my goodness it was therapy!
In winter when we can’t work outside we sow seeds, make cordials and chutneys, skin creams and lip balm. We package them up and participants give them as gifts. We know how important it is especially if someone is feeling they aren’t of any use. We try to increase the quality of their lives, to create a sense of community so people feel wrapped up not just individually but as part of a group.
I can honestly say this is the single most inspirational project I have ever worked on.”