THIS IS ONE OF A SERIES OF BLOGS OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS DESCRIBING SOME OF THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE EXTRACARE CHARITABLE TRUST. THIS WAS THE ORGANISATION I FOUNDED AND WORKED FOR FROM 1987 THROUGH TO THE TIME I RETIRED IN 2010. I HOPE IT WILL INSPIRE OTHERS TO LOOK AT NEW WAYS OF LIVING IN LATER LIFE.
For other blogs in this series, click on “ExtraCare Traditions” in the TAG CLOUD
Gardening was always quoted as one of the most popular former past-times of our residents when we started the ExtraCare Charitable Trust. Because initially we began by developing nursing homes, gardening was still more of a lost art to our residents, who were only able to have not much more than a pot plant on their bedside table. When we started building extracare housing, we were able to provide outdoor balconies to the flats and patio and garden areas on the ground floor accommodation. We were also able to build communal greenhouses into most of our schemes.
As a start to our activities programme, we always thought that gardening held a lot of potential interest to many residents. One of the first things we did was hold a “Gardener’s Question Time” at Ryton Gardens in Coventry. This event included a number of professional gardeners giving advice on all sorts of gardening activities from vegetable gardening to flower gardens and greenhouse gardening.
We always had a fun element to what we did and so our Activities Manager, Mike Hallam and I, went to the Wholesale Fruit and Veg Market in Coventry at 5 am on the morning of the event and bought a job lot of flowers, fruit and vegetables. When we got to Ryton Gardens we built a stage set modelled on the children’s TV programme, Bill and Ben The Flowerpot Men. Mike and I dressed up in sack cloth and flower pots and hid, crouched down, in two large crates, while the serious questioning got started. We were surrounded by an allotment stage set of melons, carrots, cabbages, turnips, parsnips, pumpkins, pears, apples, oranges, bananas, grapefruit, grapes……………. you name it and we bought it. The whole of the backdrop was decorated with trees and flowers – dahlias, daffodils, chrysanthemums, roses, tulips, geraniums and the centrepiece was a giant weed, which actually was my 8-month pregnant secretary in a green leotard. Susan was a great sport!
After some serious questions from the professional gardener’s panel, Mike and I popped up out of the crates and started our own question time quiz aimed at the audience, based on another children’s TV programme, Crackerjack. Every time somebody gave a correct answer to our questions, we threw them cabbages and some quality fruit and veg from the stage set. It was great fun and by the end of the afternoon everyone was sent home with a party bag full of fruit and veg, including lots of packets of seeds to enable them to get started on gardening.
This event was way back in the 1980’s and ever after gardening took off as a major activity for many people in our nursing homes and extracare housing schemes. In the nursing homes they had lots more pot plants and they also did hanging baskets and window boxes and had “gardening in tights” afternoons. In the extracare housing schemes, as well as using the large communal greenhouses, residents were able to do their own gardening in their own patio and balcony areas. In a few schemes they were also able to create small allotment areas.
In each housing scheme and nursing home, all these activities were promoted by “Gardening Captains” drawn from both the staff and the resident volunteers. This culminated in an annual “Garden in Bloom” show with photos and displays of residents’ work. Up to 500 people from all the homes and schemes attended. The entries were judged by celebrity TV gardener Howard Drury and the successful gardeners were awarded with certificates, medals and cups, along the lines of the Chelsea Flower Show.
I am pleased to say the event is still going strong today and has been emulated by many other organisations.