THE green-fingered efforts of one resident has transformed the grounds around a complex which provides sheltered housing for people over the age of 55 into an oasis of calm and colour.
Dazzling floral displays, fruit and vegetable patches and lovingly tended shrubs combine to let residents and staff enjoy the calming effects plants can have on everyday well being at St Shanaghan House in Ardara.
Chris Price (73) has used the lockdown to help a few fellow residents discover the joy of gardening – subject to social distancing – while at the same time producing a bumper crop of vegetables.
With gladioli, petunias and lobelias planted around the gardens in recent days, residents can also look forward to a bright, vibrant, summer. A Davidia involucrata – better known as a Handkerchief Tree – has also been plated in the front garden this week.
“Chris has the gardens looking as good as any 5-star hotel. He is also looking after the plots in our poly-tunnel for twenty residents, growing veg and fruit for all, and he loves to bring joy to people both through the wonderful displays and delicious fruit and vegetables,” Teague McFadden, St Shanaghan House Manager, said.
A native of Sutton Coalfield in the English Midlands, Chris first moved to Donegal twenty years ago to look after a house and grounds for a couple at Lough Eske. After suffering a stroke, he moved into St Shanaghan House two years ago this week.
“I’ve always had my hands in the earth and I took charge of the gardens from the first day I arrived here as no-one else had any experience. I’m no expert but I didn’t like the ‘industrial landscape’ way they do gardens. Okay, it’s low maintenance but it’s also very boring so I decided to plant a few flower beds to liven things up a bit,” he said.
Growing vegetables has long been hailed as one of the most beneficial of pastimes and an initial run on vegetable seeds in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in a bumper crop.
“We have peas, broad beans, onions, parsnips, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries – you name it we have it – in the greenhouse. Outside, we have cabbages and runner beans while in the secret garden I have sweet peas,” he explained.
“In general, what we’re doing is making an improvement so that the view from every apartment is no longer just looking out onto low maintenance greening. There’s a bit of colour there now,” he added.
“We’ve just had daffodils and tulips and now we’ve planted gladioli, petunias and lobelias. They’ll mature over the next two to three months and we should have some nice, colourful flowers in July, August and September,” he said.
Throughout the whole process, new gardeners have been getting their hands dirty for the first time.
“I took it upon myself to sort out the greenhouse last November. I had to change everything around and hopefully things will improve. It just takes time,” he said.
The recent spell of good weather has helped the process, although he points to the fact that we had six weeks of constant rain in January and for much of February.
“People seem to forget about the wet weather. We get one week of good weather and they think they’re living in the tropics,” he laughed.
“That said, there’s been an enormous amount of work done over the past six weeks and the garden is looking well. Some of the residents have been doing a bit of fetching and carrying for me but they’re all willing. We live in the same house and we’re one big family in a sense,” he explained.
The poly-tunnel is divided into individual plots for residents while he’s made a large wooden box which is on wheels and can be moved about the site to keep his cabbages, carrots and parsnips.
“I’m looking about creating a wild flower garden too but the plants and feeds I’ve ordered haven’t arrived yet so we’ll have something new for next year.
“I’ve also planted a new handkerchief tree – so named because when it blossoms it looks like someone has thrown white handkerchiefs at the tree. I suppose it will be like a remembrance tree though as most of us won’t be here when it reaches maturity in about ten years time,” he said.
In the meantime he’ll continue to quietly work away with trowel in his hand helping to lift spirits with gardens that are buzzing with life.
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