Green fingers let loose in lockdown

24.7.2020 | Mission News, Social Witness, Moderator, Mission, COVID-19 Emergency

Inspired by this year’s virtual Chelsea Flower Show, the residents and tenants of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) various homes and support units, let loose and limbered up their green fingers in a lockdown gardening competition that motivated and challenged everyone who took part.

In top place were the residents and staff of Aaron House, PCI’s residential home for people with profound learning and physical disability in Dundonald, followed by Gray’s Court in Belfast, which provides supported accommodation for people in early recovery from substance misuse. Third spot went to Lawnfield House in Newcastle, the respite and residential care home for people with disabilities, such as physical disabilities and mild learning disabilities.

The competition was a special initiative by the church’s Council for Social Witness (CSW), which is responsible for the overall management of the denomination’s nursing and residential care homes, along with its supported housing schemes for people with a learning disability, former offenders and those recovering from substance abuse.

Judged virtually by PCI’s Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, and his wife Zoë, the completion was not just for fun, as Lindsay Conway, CSW Secretary explained, “The Covid-19 pandemic necessitated our residential homes and support units going into lockdown from mid-March. During this time, more than ever in fact, our gardens and outdoor facilities became places of solace and renewal, wonderful spaces for our residents and tenants to work, rest and play in – especially since they couldn’t venture out.

Mr Conway continued, “The competition saw huge amounts of creative imagination and practical thought go into making these spaces even more special. It also gave our residents and tenants a different focus during a time that has been such a challenging and stressful period. We were really pleased that our Moderator, and his wife Zoë, were able to look at the photographs that were sent in showing all the hard work and effort to pick the top three.”

At top place Aaron House, residents and staff worked hard to create a number of visually interesting garden features, as home manager, Isabel Harper explained, “In a time when our residents couldn’t get out due to the lockdown, we wanted to create some areas for everyone to enjoy the tranquil and peaceful surroundings. We also wanted to stimulate our residents as we worked together to make things happen.

“These have been difficult times and we have been concerned about our residents change in routine effecting their mental health, so we wanted to create meaningful spaces for them to enjoy, and areas for staff to take time out as well,” she said.

Together, Aaron House residents and staff, created a fruit feature by recycling an old gazebo which was about to be dumped. It will be used to grow fruit for the residents and to make jam. They transformed a bland and unused space into a ‘fairy garden’ using recycled logs from a fallen tree, environmentally friendly solar powered lights, painted stones that residents, staff and their families personalised - and fairies bought from the Poundshop. In memory of a former resident who passed away a few years ago, special purple flowers were added.

Finally, an existing water feature was transformed in a piece called ‘Yacht around the Lighthouse’. Complete with waterfall, a mosaic mirror was added in various shades of green and white to the back of the cascading water, which sits at eye level for wheelchair users and young children to enjoy. The addition of lights, solar boat lanterns on top of the waterfall and three solar light posts either side further enhance the reflections on the water and in the mirror. Ripples in the water move three anchored yachts, which were made by residents, making them appear to be sailing around the lighthouse. 

“Everyone has contributed in some way to the transformation of unused areas in the garden and in enhancing the area around the water feature too,” Isabel said. “It was a pleasure for me to watch all the work that went into the projects. Watching it all coming together and seeing the pleasure on individual residents’ faces, and of the staff behind their masks, was really something and a great morale boost for everyone. It kept us all busy for a number of weeks, and continues to keep us busy.

Judging photographs that had sent in showing the entrants’ efforts, Presbyterian Moderator, Dr David Bruce, said that everyone was a winner, “Zoë and I have greatly enjoyed judging the CSW virtual garden competition and were very impressed by the standard of presentations submitted by the entrants. We hope to enjoy a visit in the future, when the Coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Moderator continued, “All of the entries are to be highly commended for their imagination, and for the enhancement of the lived environment in each place. The participation of residents and tenants in the creation of the gardens was, in many places remarkable. The use of colour, structures, existing equipment being recycled and the creation of spaces for all to enjoy help define the very purpose of a garden, and will flourish in future years with each new season. Well done to everyone!”

Since the formation of the Presbyterian Orphan and Children’s society in 1866, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has played a key role in ministering to the physical needs of people, demonstrating Jesus’ love for others, which is a powerful social witness of the gospel.

In second place was Gray’s Court. The seven men who currently live there worked together to improve the garden by cutting back overgrown and neglected shrubberies, painting furniture and fencing and planting flowers and vegetables. There are also plans to enhance the garden as a place of peace and tranquillity by planting sensory plants, which also encourage wildlife, and some fruit trees.

At Lawnfield House, at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne, afternoons were spent planting seedlings; a serious sunflower growing competition took place, with weekly measurements and a chart to see who was winning.

In their plain courtyard, which had only one flowerbed of very little colour, residents drew and painted their own Lawnfield House wall art (including handprints). Decorating as many recycled items as possible, they made butterflies from bottle tops, decorated old wellies with tiles and turned drab bird boxes into colourful avian abodes.

Chairs and tables changed colour, with residents decorating and planting a window box each. A raised herb garden was also created from an old summer seat and old car tyres were turned into a teacup planter and the ‘Lawnfield Wishing Well’.

Overall, 11 homes and support units took part in the completion and each was highly commended by the Moderator and Mrs Bruce.

Photos (1) competition judges, the Moderator and Zoë Bruce, in their garden (2) Fairy Garden in Aaron House (2) & (3) the water feature ‘Yacht around the Lighthouse’ (4) a spruced up bench at Gray's Courst complete with painted flower boxes (5) a general view of the reworked garden (6) the main courtyard at Lawnfield House complete with the tyre teapot (left) and wishing well (right) (7) Lindsay Conway, CSW Secretary, (back) with Aaron House day care assistant, Michael Grieg, holding the 1st place certificate and David, who enjoys the garden and has been a resident at Aaron House for 20 years.certificate.

Back to News