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Vertical gardens take root

Small plant ‘towers’ are proving a success at facilities with limited space, writes Megan Stoyles.

Gardening has proven physical, mental and therapeutic benefits for older participants and aged care facilities are finding extra benefits for their catering budgets.

Crops can be so productive they can contribute to meals – that’s if the fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs don’t get picked off en route to the kitchen.

Even facilities with limited outdoor space are finding that the two-metre high garden towers, which take up only 1.15 square metres, can allow “stand-up” gardening for frail residents while producing abundant flowers, vegetables and herbs.

They can be set up on a level surface, filled with potting mix and watered with a watering can, hose or a simple drip irrigation system. Families can be involved by bringing in plants or cuttings.

BUPAThomastown and several Villa Maria sites in Victoria are among facilities that have installed a Garsy freestanding tower – known as a Sensory Tower.

Diversional therapist Jo Bozin, formerly at Villa Maria and now with BUPA Thomastown, says she has had an abundant summer crop from such a tower garden.

In 2010 she described the success of a Sensory Tower at Villa Maria to a Total Aged Care Dementia and Recreation Convention on using space and existing resources. “We planted out in November and residents were eating from it by Christmas,” she told delegates.

“Our garden has fed 42 residents, four meals of silverbeet; the capsicums just keep coming. We’ve had lettuce all year to garnish, and herbs for our cooking therapy program and aromatherapy sessions.

“Raspberries seem to jump into the mouths of residents as they pass, and the cropping list just goes on and on! Everything in our garden is edible, except for a couple of violas for colour.

“We dehydrate the herbs that we grow to add to bath bombs for the sensory program, and make beautiful pestos and dips for Friday’s happy hour using the basil, mint, coriander, dill, and whatever else is required for the recipe. Pineapple sage is delicious, freshly picked and added with ice to lemonade.

“It is so engaging for the residents to actually pick the fresh herbs, and then to prepare them, knowing that it will be shared with staff and residents. You learn more about your residents through gardening than almost anything else.

“Reminiscence sessions just flow without cues or prompts. One of my ladies went out to the courtyard everyday when the spring onions were mature, picking one or two each time, washing them under the tap and munching away, being so happy with herself.

“There would not have been this opportunity for her to do this if we didn’t have such an accessible garden for all to enjoy.”

Bozin told Insite recently: “The Sensory Garden in Thomastown was doing beautifully. It was not at all knocked around like the other raised garden beds after the hail storm on Christmas Day in Melbourne.

“Most of our tomatoes in the raised beds were totalled, but all the herbs, capsicums, beetroot and spring onions just soldiered on undisturbed in the tower. Last Thursday we harvested so many herbs that we all took some home as well as making a great variety of dips for all residents to enjoy in the afternoon as the weather was gorgeous.

“Don’t think the kitchen was happy with me though! The residents ate so much that they were not hungry at tea time. They had the best time and that’s what counts in my book!

“Whatever their size, any facility can fit a Garsy Tower system, and space is no longer a reason to not have a garden. Everyone in Australia should have one, especially for people with mobility issues!”

The enthusiasm spreads to the top: BUPA Thomastown’s manager Kathryn Russell “loves” the garden. “It not only makes the residents happy, but also the staff. It creates opportunity to reminisce, as it is like a visit to nana’s house, where you were always certain to be offered something fresh from the garden.

“I have clear view from my office and I often see residents outside watering, picking, or simply admiring the sensory garden. I can proudly say that we were the first BUPA home to purchase one and I would strongly recommend these to other aged care homes. They are low maintenance, and there is always something lovely to look at, regardless of the season.”

For information on vertical gardens see: www.verticalgardensedennow.com.au

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