Easy Care Gardening Inc is a lifeline for many elderly residents of northern Sydney. Started by three horticultural therapy volunteers back in 1988, it helps ageing and disabled home owners to stay in the homes they have built, tended and loved for decades. For what happens when you lose the ability to look after your garden, but are still fit enough to stay in your own home? Many ageing home owners find themselves in this distressing situation, especially those managing on pensions and low incomes who can’t afford hired help.
Communities need their elderly residents. They are the ones with the stories, the knowledge and the memories of how the town or suburb used to be. As living custodians of our social history, they can recall when the roads were still dirt, the old grocer shop was on the corner, and the clothes prop man came door to door. They remember how new families came to north-west Sydney from many countries after each world war, bringing with them their own ideas about life, relationships, politics – and gardening.
For many home owners, ageing brings with it the dreaded fear of the retirement village and the nursing home – and not just for the current generation of those in their 70s to 90s, as us baby boomers will soon enough face this difficult time. The independence that comes from staying in the family home keeps many elderly residents engaged with life and, from a purely economic point of view, it’s much cheaper to support even quite frail elderly people in their own homes than in permanent care.
Stories from Our Gardens, (published by Easy Care Gardening Inc, 2012 – $10 + $2.90pp) is a lovely collection of reminiscences from the older residents of Ryde about their arrival in the area, and the way their families and gardens grew and changed as the decades passed. Men and women in their 80s, 90s and even one centenarian bring to life the many black and white photographs of a childhood and/or adulthood spent in the district. From a view of current fashions in the gardening world, it’s fascinating to read about those who did it all before – chooks, vegetable gardens, fruit trees and herbs, as well as the additions of tough long-lived shrubs like azalea, camellia and roses.
At the core of their stories, and of Easy Care Gardening though, is a lot more than the ability of ageing residents to stay at home. It is the story of how community volunteers like Karen, Ian and Anne weed, prune and mow, but also provide much-needed social contact for those who are often widowed, isolated by disability, or whose families now live far away.
Fortunately (for all of us) Easy Care Gardening has grown from those first three volunteers into a thriving organisation with over 500 volunteer garden workers helping over 1200 clients, supported by local and state government funding, business sponsorship, community donations and a small fee paid by the home owner.
Teams are led by experienced gardeners who assess each garden for its maintenance needs, often converting the garden into a more manageable ‘easy-care’ style.
Stories from Our Gardens is charming and very readable. As a gardener, I would have liked more gardening and less personal history, but I accept that each person needs to be able to tell his or her story in his or her way. Each story is unique, and reminded me a little of Bert Facey’s autobiography ‘A Fortunate Life’. What can seem to me a life of hardship, separations or even personal tragedy can be, to the person who has actually lived it, a life of fulfilling relationships, opportunities, and wonder. It also made me think about that when I’m old, I hope I can find help to keep caring for myself with dignity and independence.
If you live in Sydney you can find out about volunteering for Easy Care Gardening. If you don’t live in Sydney, you might think about contacting them for advice about how you, and a handful of volunteers, can start something so worthwhile in your own town or district.