While wandering through the Almonte Farmers’ Market a week ago Saturday I made the acquaintance of Carolyn Della Foresta, the Administrator of Country Haven in Almonte. She invited me to visit the gardens at Country Haven which is an 82-bed Long Term Care Home on Country Street in Almonte. I took her up on her invitation a few days later and quite frankly I was touched and overwhelmed by what I saw.
Country Haven presents a very warm inviting visage to the street with colourful flowers and well-tended shrubs, trees and perennial beds. But just a minute! The beds contain some unexpected surprises. On closer examination, as the following photos show, nestled in amongst the flowers and shrubs are many herbs such as basil, thyme, parsley and oregano.
I was guided around the grounds by Naomi Redner, the Life Enrichment Coordinator. Her five-member team has created a real haven for the residents. Without formal training in horticulture or the therapeutic uses of gardening they have listened to and watched residents and are very aware of what they respond to. As well a residents’ council meets monthly and the residents do not hesitate to tell staff what they want.
The staff is acutely aware of the rural and small-town background of their residents and that the preponderance of them have been involved in gardening throughout their lives. They count gardening as one of their best programs with its focus on getting residents outdoors and in touch with nature; a program that I believe is truly therapeutic.
In addition to the use of the gardens to enrich the lives of residents, the gardens also make some very practical contributions. Produce from the garden finds its way into the hands of chefs at Country Haven and flowers and herbs become aromatic decorations in the dining hall.
There are many heart-warming anecdotes about the ways the residents respond to the gardens. Many residents (and visitors) pop a sun-warmed, juicy succulent cherry tomato in their mouth, many run their hands through the aromatic herbs that are interspersed throughout beds on the property, others help with the weeding and watering and many are able to watch the gardens from their windows observing the birds and other critters that the gardens attract. One story that brought me close to tears was of the resident that staff noticed was missing meals – it turned out that he was grazing in the garden chowing down on radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes.
The heart of the program is the secure garden courtyard which residents can freely enter from the building. It is fully fenced and there is no fear of residents wandering off. There are appealing seating areas, shade trees and boxes spilling over with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and many other vegetables.
The gardening program at Country Haven began with the installation of one four foot by eight foot box two feet high in 2011. It was part of the initial planting of vegetable garden boxes around Almonte by the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardening initiative that was instigated by community developer Jeff Mills.
Since this initial step there have been many additions. Six boxes were added in 2014 and a further 3 in 2015. The programs have been complemented by fundraising, volunteer time and resident memorials. In addition to the boxes in the courtyard garden, others have been added on the grounds, many so that residents that are not so mobile can observe them from their windows – many also have bird feeders close by.