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Sustainable Garden Project: The Need to Assist Frail Elderly People

Sustainable Garden Project: The Need to Assist Frail Elderly People

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Published by calderdavid35

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: calderdavid35 on Oct 03, 2011
Copyright:Public Domain


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Dot has lymphedema which severely restricts her mobility. She needs a mobile
frame to walk everywhere. She also cares for her husband who has had acquired
brain damage for 16 years after an accident, and now has Alzheimer’s.
Dot’s garden was probably the most exciting to work on, she was a very gifted
gardener and her garden was a cedit to her, however some areas were just
beginning to suffer.


Dot’s rose garden which she designed and built herself when she retired. Four of the roses had
totally reverted to the rootstock, so were removed and the soil below the roses was open to weed
invasion and moisture evaporation.

Some of the new shrubs which had been planted the previous autumn were
barely alive, plants like the hydrangeas and hellebores were suffering from lack of
water, as were some of the new camellias and lavenders. Perennials, for example
phlox and pentstemons were struggling and there were quite a few large areas of
open soil which were kept weed free by Dot and her daughter when she came to
visit, but Dot would prefer to prune and water with her limited ability and time.

Dot needs to access the washing line every day: this involves opening two doors
and negotiating two steps with a frame and washing basket, which is very
demanding on her.

After checking the Australian Standard regulations with Sarah Lachal, (an
Occupational Therapist from MonashLink, who is on the Reference Group, and
following up a couple of carpenter references, the Project Coordinator proposed
ramps be installed. The total cost was too much for the project, but Dot offered to
contribute to the cost. However it was suggested the Occupational Therapist from
Boroondara City Council should be contacted first to see if the ramps could be
supplied by them.

Once it was confirmed Dot’s garden would be renovated she had a very enjoyable
day with her daughter, buying plants. Although it had been explained the plants
would be supplied by the project Dot, a very independent soul felt she was just
grateful the work would be done and wanted to “do her bit”. The Project
Coordinator was happy for this as it meant Dot still had some ownership of her


Most of the work involved moving plants to more suitable locations or which had
been planted too close together, removing some high maintenance plants like
hydrangeas, rampant honeysuckles, artemesia which needed annual pruning, and
planting plants struggling in pots. The other main job was mulching. Dot had begun
to buy in shredded bark by the bag, but because of limited space in her daughter’s
car it was only spread about 10mm thick, not the necessary 100mm. Also it was
proving very expensive to do it this way.

This bed looks lush and green but it is very high maintenance as the shrubs and climbers are quite rampant
and need regular pruning to allow access down this area.

By moving and dividing the existing plants, and Dot supplying many more, the
expenses for this garden, which was one of the bigger ones, were not too high. We
could still keep the spirit of the garden with Dot’s “red bed”, “the yellow and
blue/purple border”, “the shade bed” and wildlife areas she had created. The rose
beds out the front were enhanced with low planting at the base. Dot’s existing 4
clumps of Liriope ‘Samantha” were divided to make 38 smaller plants and a clump
of campanula gave another 15 plants, it was rather like the loaves and fishes.

There was some debate whether we should plant out the many pots Dot had as
projects. For example, in two pots she was training Duranta “Geisha Girls” bushes
as standards. There were quite a few other plants dotted around most interesting
plants which had caught her eye over the years. Then to cut down on
maintenance, by reducing flowerbed space, she had planted up some plants in
pots in a very hot, dry area outside the living room window.


The soil was then covered with stones. It was apparent she didn’t have the time to
water and feed these plants as well as she had in the past and specialists had told
her that her legs wouldn’t improve..... It was one of those sad cases where reality
reared its ugly head. Where could Dot’s time and energy be best employed?. She
felt bad when her daughter helped her in the garden when she was tired after a long
day’s work.

The hot bed that received sun most of the day. It was planted with succulents that Dot already had in pots and
other very drought tolerant plants. These should spread to cover the whole area.

There was a collection of succulents in pots next to the hot bed,, possibly “gifts”,
which would be perfect in that location, along with other a Trachyocarpus, two
agaves and a Phormium all in pots dotted around the garden. They will look good
when established and should cover the ground to keep down any weeds. Dot was
really happy with the end result (a few more plants were added to bulk up
numbers) and quite relieved she wouldn’t have to drag the hose around to the pots
anymore. The Durantas were planted in spots Dot could still reach and continue
pruning into their shapes.

Dot had discussed moving to a smaller unit or retirement village with her family, but
ultimately wanted to stay where she was with all the neighbours she knows and the
social life she has built up over the years. Her husband would be very unsettled if
he had to move, both regularly roam around the garden, it gave them breathing
space away from each other and a space for relaxing. The project was very timely
as the garden was just becoming a worry. Now it has become a place to potter
and water instead of watching plants struggle and feel helpless when a few years
ago she could have done what was necessary.


There’s nothing worse than seeing a hellebore which should be upright, about
300mm high, and making buds for next year, lying prostrate on the dry soil, limp
and wrinkled, next to another just the same, and if water is applied it just runs off
the hydrophobic soil. It’s these little things that the Sustainable Garden Project can
make a difference to, especially to an avid gardener such as Dot, you never stop
being a gardener or caring.



Ila has extreme arthritis in both knees, and like most of the clients stays positive
“I’m lucky, it could be in my hands as well”. However it does severely limit her
mobility, and she relies on a frame to move around. She, like Dot above, was a
wonderful gardener as her garden shows. Attention to detail and beautiful things
shows in the way they dress and decorate their homes. Over the years the garden
has been simplified, “when things die they are not replaced, it’s too hard to get to
the garden centre, and if anything is bought, who’s going to plant it”? As a result
the garden is neat and tidy, but there are gaps. Ila has a huge picture window that
looks onto the back garden, her chair focuses onto a cherry tree with a bare fence
beyond. To a plant lover, it’s not too inspiring. The neighbour has a couple of large
trees which, along with Ila’s cherry tree make growing conditions quite hard for
anything else to grow let alone thrive.

The path to Ila’s washing line was only 500mm wide and hugged the garage, and
like the paving under the washing line was uneven and some of the pavers were
chipped, all hazards for someone with limited mobility. We replaced the broken
pavers, and added more to widen the path to 1000mm.

In the front garden was a pittosporum, pruned into a large 3000x2000mm rectangle to
keep it manageable. It was right on the fence line and was causing the 400mm
high brick wall to buckle. Its roots were also affecting anything else trying to grow
there. Ila is a very stylish person and likes everything neat and tidy, and here was a
great big thug, which was self-seeded affecting her front flowerbed. It was also very
costly to keep having it pruned.
This was removed by the volunteers and the bed planted with low plants such as
Lomandra ‘Tanika’, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Agapanthus ‘Tinkerbell’ to complement
the existing dwarf Nandina and Convolvulus Cneureum.

The side drive had lost a couple of trees which used to shade the hydrangeas and
azaleas which were now suffering. However after discussion with Ila it was decided
to leave them as she already had a big garden to water and didn’t want to worry
about too many new areas to maintain. The side drive was not an area many
people saw, so as long as it’s tidy the plants would have to make their own way.
This is actually a good sustainable practise. Plants are often tougher than people
realise and will cope with less water, it will force them to send roots down into the
soil to find their own water. The area was mulched. Because Ila had made
compost and had manured the soil for so long it was in very good condition which
will help the plants cope.


Ila had a number of plants struggling in pots, azaleas and a camellia. A new bed
was made which extended from an existing bed with similar plants. Previously a
concrete path had led to this bed but it served no purpose, so it was lifted and the new
bed created in its place. The potted plants were planted out and have all
flourished. This small bed is also visible from Ila’s window.

The new bed created by lifting a redundant concrete path. 4 of these plants were slowly
dying in their pots before being planted out. A carpet rose was planted to add colour in the

The bed against the fence has also been planted up. Luckily there were several
Jacobina plants elsewhere in the garden, mainly in the sun when they prefer the
shade so they were moved. Liriope, Rhagodia and Plectranthus were added in the
worst areas and heliotrope, carpet rose and westringia in the sunnier spots.


Some of the plants selected to cope with shade and competition from tree roots , Jacobina, Plectranthus,
Thagodia Liriope,

Shrubs which flower at different times were added to other ‘gaps’ to cover the soil
and to add colour and interesting detail of foliage which Ila is sure to notice.


The front garden bed with Libbertia, Sedum, Nandina, Convolulus and dwarf Agapanthus to provide
interesting foliage and colour at different times of the year.

2.(ii) Volunteers

The project coordinator (PC) ran a 3 hour training session to discuss and present:-


Sustainable gardening principals;


Health and Safety issues;


The Sustainable Garden Project (SGP.) (Appendix 3).

This was run twice, once for the existing volunteers and again for the new recruits.
Comments showed they benefited greatly from these sessions in terms of
increased understanding of sustainable gardening processes. It is much easier to
implement new practises if it is known why one is doing it.

The volunteers indicated their availability for work and a timetable co-ordinating
suitable client and volunteer times was drawn up. The Project Coordinator was at
the client’s home to introduce the volunteers and client and to answer any
questions the client may have, and then to supervise and work with the volunteers.

The volunteers all had a love of gardening and came from all sorts of backgrounds,
chatting helped some along and made the experience more interesting, others
preferred to work away quietly by themselves, just enjoying working outdoors and
helping those less fortunate. There was a strong sense of bonding between the
love of gardening and helping others. Another example of a symbiotic relationship.


Most of the volunteers were unaware of sustainable gardening techniques, though
being aware of the need for them. For example, the idea of returning prunings to
the garden or planting an empty pot near a newly planted shrub to create a
reservoir to take water deeper to the roots. Also the real depth mulch needs to be
applied, most would spread it 3-5cm deep, whereas 10cm is needed this time of

They were able to take these new practises away with them and inform others.
Also they learnt where to source various materials and consider the impact their
gardening practises will now have on the environment.

The clients and carers furthered the experience for the volunteers by showing their
gratitude so enthusiastically.

Gardening has very strong bonding qualities, between nature and mankind, hard
work and beauty, sharing of ideas, experiences and joy, communication between
all ages and backgrounds. This was experienced at every level of the project.
There was a love of gardening from - Jeff Herd who initiated the project, amongst
the Reference Group, obviously the volunteers and it was one of the chief criteria
for the client selection process.


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