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The health benefits of plants for your parent

This week’s storyteller is Clare Long.

Clare, founder of Granny Dodo’s Gardens, shares how flowers can be more than just gifts for our parents, they can also bring enjoyment and brighten up daily life in a care home.

My grandparents had a wonderful garden, full of flowers that my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed Granny Dodo) created beautiful arrangements from. Spending time with her in their garden and watching her work are some of my most cherished memories of growing up with my grandmother.

After my grandad passed away in 2007 it was a very hard and distressing time for my grandmother – it marked the beginning of her decline. In 2011 she was diagnosed with vascular dementia after showing significantly distressing symptoms. As her dementia progressed my family had to make the difficult decision to move her into care – she could no longer look after herself.

My grandmother’s decline was rapid. During the last weeks of her life she transformed from the once vibrant woman, creative and full of life that we all knew and loved to a weaker version of herself unable to walk, eat or drink very much at all.

We were very lucky to find a wonderful care home in the New Forest who supported her as her condition worsened and her care needs grew. Knowing that my grandmother loved flowers the care staff took her outside to enjoy the sunshine and the gardens almost every day.

These excursions meant everything to her. She would pick the flowers in the grounds to adorn her bedroom and the care home allowed her to remove nearly all the flowers from their gardens so that she could enjoy the last few weeks of her life doing what she loved the most. They looked after her amazingly.

After my grandmother passed away in 2013 I wanted to do something to honour her memory. I found it hard to cope with her loss as we had been very close so my auntie and I decided to plant a garden at her care home as a memorial. It was a perfect way to remember her as well as a chance to replace all the flowers she had picked!

We wanted to create a cut flower garden that bloomed all year round from which residents could pick plants to brighten their rooms or use as stock for their flower arranging activities.

My grandmother always said “If something is worth doing then it’s worth doing properly!” so with her mantra in mind my auntie and I booked onto a cutting garden course to learn how to grow a specialist garden full of flowers viable for arrangements.

My grandmother’s garden brought her such joy. She had a huge passion for flowers and the natural world, a passion that I wanted to impart to others who were in care and could benefit from the social and therapeutic qualities that gardening provides.

I attended a Thrive course this year to gain a deeper insight into how gardening can improve people’s health and act as a form of therapy especially for older people and those with mental health difficulties. Horticultural activities can help people recover from illness, learn new skills, slow deterioration from degenerative conditions and provide a sense of achievement for those who watch their hard work begin to grow.

I was overwhelmed by the growing interest in our cut flower garden project for care homes that I decided to further my knowledge of floristry and founded a business dedicated to sharing the benefits of gardening for the elderly – Granny Dodo’s Gardens.

Buying flowers for our parents and grandparents is something that most of us do from time to time as a gesture of love and affection, something to make them feel special. My project aims to make that sense of fulfilment accessible every day through planting a cut flower garden that can be enjoyed and picked from on a regular basis.

My hope for the future is that we’ll be able to create specialist gardens for many care homes and hospices to help enhance the lives of their residents and offer a distraction from their various health difficulties.

Being able to create personal arrangements from the gardens we plant is something that both honours my grandmother’s legacy and love of flowers while inspiring new people to be involved in gardening. It gives them the opportunity to be a part of creating something new, something that may even live on beyond their years.

If I can provide support to families that are placing their parent (or grandparent) into care or are facing a difficult diagnosis by supplying cut flower gardens, beautiful bouquets and personal arrangements I feel that I’ve aided in their relief and recovery.

Flowers can give people a mental lift and a shift in mood improving their quality of life especially if they’ve recently moved into care and are unfamiliar with their new surroundings.

It’s easy to enjoy the simple pleasures of gardening and cut flowers and for those suffering from Dementia, Alzheimer’s or recovering from stroke being able to carry on gardening or appreciate flowers can be a vital part of their treatment.

If you’d like your parent’s care home to be a part of the Granny Dodo’s Gardens project or perhaps you’d like to commission a cut flower garden for a parent who still lives at home there are many ways you can facilitate your parent’s love of gardening.

Getting in touch with your parent’s care home as well as the individual carers responsible for their care plan could be a good starting point. The staff may be able to introduce gardening as a form of therapy for your parent or even for the rest of the residents in the home as well as instigate deliveries of freshly cut flowers.

Granny Dodo’s Gardens is a family run gardening and floristry business specialising in designing, creating and building cut flower gardens for care homes. For more information call 07581 313262 or email [email protected].

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