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Retirees grow food and friendships in community garden

Westhaven Elmore and Rae Lloyd in garden.jpg

If empty shelves at gardening centres throughout South-East Queensland are anything to go by, the current social distancing conditions have created a surge of novice ‘green thumbs.’

But for residents at Bolton Clarke’s Westhaven retirement village at Toowoomba gardening is - and always has been - a way of life.  

Elmore and Rae Lloyd and Dennis and Deslyn Law agree the community garden at Westhaven is an ongoing labour of love, and a chance to grow not just food and flowers, but friends too.

Elmore and Rae moved to Westhaven from their farm in Pallamallawa, New South Wales in 2017 and the passionate gardeners haven’t looked back since.

“We’ve made quite a few friends since living here,” says Elmore. “We’ve got good neighbours. We’re a family, really.”

“Westhaven is a wonderful spot. It’s open and beautiful. It’s nice to have our surrounds looking bright and fresh and that’s what the garden does. It’s calming. Good for the soul and for the spirit,” he said.

“We consider ourselves very fortunate to be here. We didn’t even look anywhere else. When we first saw it, we thought ‘this is it – this is home for us.’”

“The garden fits in very well during social distancing,” shares Rae. “We grow lots of different vegetables and we can share them around with others.”

“Gardening is so relaxing – you lose yourself when you get in there. It’s great therapy!”

“It’s a good activity, especially at the moment – and we have to walk a little way to get there so it’s good exercise too.”

To help pollinate their gardens, Elmore and Rae have two native stingless beehives in their backyard, and another up in the shared veggie patch.

Westhaven Rae Lloyd w beehive.jpg

“We haven’t had any honey yet,” says Rae. “Native bees don’t produce much, and they’ve been keeping it to themselves, but we don’t mind.”

It’s a sentiment and second passion shared with Dennis and Deslyn, who brought their beehive with them down from Maryborough when they made a ‘tree change’ from Bolton Clarke’s Chelsea retirement village to Westhaven.

“The garden is an ongoing blessing,” says Deslyn. “You can go up there and you know you are part of a great community.”

“There’s no doubt the garden has brought us new friends. Everyone knows everyone else. We’re not in each other’s pockets but we’re also very friendly and willing to have a chat.”

“You can’t go for a brisk walk around Westhaven – that’s for sure!”

“Most of us are doing fine, being in ‘lockdown’ hasn’t been traumatic for us at all – we’re a close community. We’ve all survived well because we all check in on each other. If anyone’s having a tough time, we can help each other out.”

“I take flowers around to our neighbours and have a chat,” says Deslyn.

“Our friend Rita makes chutney and Deslyn sells it for her around the village,” adds Dennis.

Deslyn says that the eight-hour move south from Maryborough to Toowoomba was made less daunting by the warm welcome they received on arrival and support from Westhaven Village Manager, Vanessa Nugent.

“Vanessa is a really lovely person. Even before we came here – when we were looking at moving, she would call and text and without even meeting her we thought she was wonderful. A one-of-a-kind exceptional person.”

“It’s a lovely village to be part of and a comfortable place to live, and Vanessa is a big part of that.”

Elmore and Rae couldn’t agree more.

“She does a great job. She manages everyone’s desires and keeps harmony in the place,” says Elmore.

“… and it was her idea to put in the community garden,” adds Rae.

Vanessa says it’s a joy to see the garden – and the friendships – grow.

“We’re adding a worm farm next!” she says.