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5 May 2019

Growing communities with gardens

Having access to a garden is  not a certainty for everyone. Community Greening, a Royal Botanic Garden Sydney state-wide outreach program, helps those most in need reap the benefits of engagement in a garden.

Sponsored by Family & Community Services (FACS) and Bloomberg, this program empowers vulnerable communities while providing a broad range of health, training, economic and social benefits.

In 2017, Benjamin Short Grove (BSG), Mission Australia’s latest aged care facility located in rural NSW, engaged in a garden project with Community Greening to create an inviting, therapeutic and interactive garden for the residents. BSG is a facility for the homeless, risk of homelessness and socially and financially disadvantaged. 

mission australia, community greening
The Benjamin Short Grove garden brings the residents together.

Setting up for success

Included in the site development was a landscape design with pathways, garden beds and standard plantings suitable for low maintenance plantings. Community Greening began the first garden activities with residents in July 2017, supported by the BSG Leisure and Lifestyle workers.

The residents engaged with hands on activities, like potting up plants destined for the garden, growing seed and propagating. Many have potted seedlings and cared for them until they are big enough to be decorated and given as gifts. The staff often receive these gifts as many of the residents do not have regular visitors.

elizabeth docking, community greening
Community Greening helped to support the garden at the facility.

A hub of activity

Residents have also made mosaic stepping stones, pottery totems and Indigenous art for the secure courtyard which has blossomed from a space with limited activity to one that sees dementia residents walking their ‘babies’ in prams and others taking time out in the fresh air and sunshine to participate in social activities and to see the latest blooms.

community greening
Nature and cultural based activities are a popular way to engage the community.

Garden therapy a winner

Plants and materials valued in the thousands have been supplied by Community Greening, and sponsors continue the beautification process. Recent additions include raised garden beds and a sand therapy bed. Funds are being sourced for a yarning circle, as most residents identify as Aboriginal.

Initial planning for the project included having the residents participate in activities that took them beyond their front door, like having their mosaic works and floral art entered in the Orange Agricultural Show.

To prepare the residents for this activity, Community Greening assisted with staging the annual Benjamin Short Grove Flower Show, using flowers predominantly picked from the facilities gardens.

community greening
Mary proudly shows off her bouquet of flowers collected from the garden.

Community support

This popular activity engaged most residents and staff, including residents often challenging to engage due to their health situation. In 2019, the judges were Jay French, horticulture apprentice from Orange Botanic Gardens and the Garden Supervisor Neil Bollinger.

A nursery is being planned to grow plants for sale, to fund future projects and education and engagement of residents. Also, excursions, including to the Orange Botanic Gardens, will  become a regular activity.

community greening
Alexei has brightly coloured pots throughout the garden.

Future gardens

Impressive milestones are being reached by BSG residents, including winning awards and learning new  skills. In 2018, Keep Australia Beautiful recognised the garden program with a Community Spirit and Inclusion Award.

Future projects include involvement in the FrogID project with the Australian Museum and Bunnings. There are also plans for a large insect hotel to be installed ahead of Australian Pollinator Week and opened by special guest, Dr Megan Halcroft, who started this important initiative. 

Many of the residents who are in their twilight years are experiencing the benefits of a garden for the first time.  

The demand for Community Greening continues to grow, with the project aim to deliver 850 gardens and engage 15,000 participants by 2021.

Photography by Clayton Rose

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