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From sowing to stir fry – aged care residents dig in to gardening project

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One of life’s great pleasures is enjoying a meal made from food you’ve grown in your own garden.

It’s a pleasure keen gardeners at Bolton Clarke Inverpine residential aged care community celebrated this week after a bumper vegetable harvest from their raised community gardens.

Residents have been getting their hands dirty as part of Bolton Clarke’s pilot Let’s Dig In therapeutic gardening program and  after 10 weeks are seeing the fruits of their labour – both in the garden and in themselves.

Marion has taken responsibility for maintaining one of the gardens. As a result, she has lengthened her regular walks to include twice-daily visits to the garden beds, checking progress and picking fresh flowers for her room..

“My love of life and gardening has returned,” she said.

Gloria’s window overlooks the garden and she’s become the ‘garden security.’

“I see everyone coming and going,” she said. “I know if we’re getting too overzealous with picking the flowers or watering the vegetables.”

Eric has been keenly watering the plants and made sure the gardens were well-tended over the festive season. He was also part of the group that collected the recent harvest.

Inverpine Diversional Therapist Rekha Singh said the garden has provided plenty of opportunities for the residents to socialise and be active while they do so.

“It has been wonderful to see our gardeners taking ownership of the project – from planning the sowing to weeding, watering and harvest,” she said.

The latest harvest included capsicums, basil, silver beet and pak choy which made for a delicious Mongolian stir fry lunch.

Now, the gardeners have begun to consider what they’d like to plant - and eat - as the cooler months approach.

On the menu for autumn and winter will be root vegetables, colourful cabbages, snow and sugar snap peas. They also plan to install a trellis to plant passionfruit vines to spoon the fruit on top of desserts. The produce will be surrounded by flowers and companion plants including pansies, viola and sweet pea.

The ‘Let’s Dig In!” project is supported by Horticultural Therapist Cath Manuel from ‘Soil to Supper’ who has worked with both residents and team members at Inverpine throughout the process.

“There are many benefits from connecting with nature. Gardening supports our social, physical and emotional wellbeing,” she said.

Ms Singh said the community was looking forward to continuing to expand their gardens and to be able to enjoy more of their produce in meals.

“We were able to tell a story from education through planting and harvesting to a product. We’ve enjoyed two meals with vegetables from our garden and we were able to share some of the produce with two other Bolton Clarke communities,” she said.

Bolton Clarke Food Services Manager Caroline Lucas said the program has impacted the chefs too.

“It’s got the creative juices flowing,” she said. “We create a meal around the produce the residents harvest. We enjoy working with what they’ve grown and love the collaboration!”

The next phase of the pilot is an extension of the program to the Inverpine Memory Support Unit, where the gardening activities will be targeted for residents with dementia.

The Bolton Clarke Research Institute has been measuring results from the project and will assess improvements in resident’s mobility, strength, mental wellbeing and satisfaction.

The work will inform a roll-out of the ‘Let’s Dig In’ gardening program across Bolton Clarke’s 25 residential aged care communities.