Seeds of happiness: How retirement developers help gardeners to flourish

Seeds of happiness: How retirement developers help gardeners to flourish 

Perhaps it is time for another Dig for Victory campaign to grow more food for the nation: despite well-stocked supermarkets, Britain is only ever a few days away from running out of food.

The matter, highlighted in the Commons last week, comes in the wake of warnings by the National Farmers’ Union that self sufficiency in such fresh foods as fruit and vegetables is falling off a cliff. 

While the young are being urged to go back to the land and get involved with farming, older people often need no such encouragement. Many of those born before and during the Second World War have not lost their enthusiasm for growing their own as the nation’s allotments show.

The average age of so-called "lotties" is 64 and they show no signs of giving up their rights to a "bit of earth" as was seen when Eric Pickles tried to abolish the duty of councils to supply allotment land. 

The Government has now backed away from that plan following a well fought campaign. Indeed, the general demand for allotments is rising again and now even retirement developers are beginning to heed the call so that people moving out of homes with large gardens do not have to forgo the pleasure of growing their plants and vegetables.

Awareness of the economic and health benefits of growing your own food is only one aspect of the story; the social side of gardening and garden clubs has long been recognised. At Audley Clevedon, near Ilkley in West Yorkshire, 12 new allotment beds have just been built, with some raised to ease accessibility.

Nick Sanderson, chief executive of the company which specialises in luxury retirement villages, said that people often look forward to fulfilling delayed dreams and embracing new challenges after they leave work.

"Our research shows that a huge number of people in the UK population enjoy gardening so it is no surprise that this passion is shared by the owners in our villages. At Inglewood House, opened last summer, residents will be able to cultivate plants and flowers and grow vegetables on land that was previously used for similar means by the De La Salle monks who lived there."

Six of Audley’s villages, now scattered across the UK and often surrounding beautiful and historic manor houses, have established gardening clubs which look after plants in the village grounds. They also provide an opportunity for owners to help encourage and protect wildlife. Audley Clevedon has also won the Ilkley In Bloom award for the past two years thanks to the beautiful tubs and hanging baskets that the owners create, as well as the grounds themselves.

Age seems to be no barrier to the green-fingered residents. Colin Lawton, 87, who lives in Audley Clevedon, helps the gardeners maintain the lawns using a drive on tractor which makes the job fun and manageable for him.

"When I retired 20 years ago, my wife and I acquired a much neglected garden in South West France. The restoration and development of the four acres at Lous Rouquets, as it was known, used much of my energy during our annual six-month residence there," he says.

"So I was delighted to find that I was by no means cut off from gardening at Audley Clevedon. "It is a great joy to be able to make some contribution to keeping the estate in splendid condition while continuing to enjoy the outdoor life and the exercise that entails." Nick Sanderson added: "The retirement village model promotes independence and allows individuals to be as active and engaged as they wish with a host of activities available at each site.

"At our villages we are proud to boast of our gardening clubs as well as pilates, yoga and zumba classes among a range of other activities. Today’s generation of retirees are not content to sit back on the sidelines of society and want to remain active and enjoy their retirement fully."

A gardening club has just been launched at West Hall, in Surrey, a care home run by not-for-profit Anchor, a provider of housing and care to older people which has rented and leasehold retirement properties, dementia care homes and retirement villages.

West Hall resident Eileen Sampson, 91, has mild dementia but spending time planting and weeding with staff has helped her cope with the condition. Wellbeing manager Helen Stevens, launched the home’s gardening club so that other residents could join in. "The club has been a huge success," she says. "Many residents and their families enjoy spending time outdoors and seeing the fruits of their labour now that harvest season is on us. We are picking and serving our vegetables in the bistro here at West Hall."

The team also takes trips to a garden centre to buy seeds and other necessities for the raised beds that have been built.

"I have planted carrots, broccoli, cucumber and peppers among other seeds," says Eileen, "it helps me overcome my problems."