Nursing home creates own 'Garden of Eden'

Volunteer Linda Kwok (left) tends to the vegetable garden while patient Dixie Clarence of All Saints Home watches by the side. The nursing home has a “Garden of Eden” concept, with an ornamental garden in the centre surrounded by the four residential blocks where the patients live.

SINGAPORE - There are 200 papaya trees and plots of sweet potato leaves, ladies fingers, pumpkins and other vegetables, like in a small farm.

But the place is actually part of a nursing home, and the gardeners are ambulance drivers, residents living nearby, families of patients, and, occasionally, the patients themselves.

Residents at the All Saints Home in Yishun, which started operations in March, have already enjoyed several harvests from these gardens.

Mr Mark Lim, an operations executive at the home and the main gardener in charge, said some vegetables such as kangkong and chye sim, take only four to six weeks from the time they are planted to harvest time.

Mr Richard Quah, director of the home, said the place used to be Yishun Primary School, hence the space for gardens.

When the volunteer welfare organisation (VWO), started by the Bethel Presbyterian Church, took over the premises under the Ministry of Health's (MOH) build-own- lease scheme, it decided on a "Garden of Eden" concept, with an ornamental garden in the centre surrounded by the four residential blocks where the patients live.

The side strip of land became its vegetable garden and, the front, an orchard with papaya, guava, mango and custard apple trees.

Mr Quah said such gardens serve three purposes: It is soothing for patients to be surrounded by nature; they provide fruit and vegetables for the home; and they draw residents living close by who enjoy gardening.

Ms Linda Kwok, 54, who lives in Yishun and whose father is a patient in the home, works in the garden most days of the week, when she also visits her father.

Right now, it is hard for wheelchair-bound patients to get close to the lush vegetable plots.

Mr Quah hopes to build wheelchair-friendly paths around the plots so patients can be closer to the plants, but there is no money to do so yet.

Access to the central ornamental garden, however, is easy for the home's almost 180 patients, who are mostly in their 80s or 90s and are bedridden or dependent on wheelchairs.

Nearby schools, such as Ahmad Ibrahim Primary and Secondary Schools, Yishun Primary and Orchid Park Secondary Schools, have adopted the home. They send classes of students to entertain and mingle with residents, who enjoy interacting with the children.

Entertainment such as singing, dancing and music performances often take place in the ornamental garden, so patients can get a good view from the four floors of balconies that overlook the garden.

Mr Lim has been introducing caterpillars to the ornamental garden, in the hope that when they become butterflies, they will remain, adding beauty to the place.

Seniors living nearby are encouraged to drop by for a bowl of soup every Thursday, and to join in activities, such as exercise and line-dancing.

Mr Quah also hopes to start a hydroponic farm when funds allow, so patients "can help, as we will put them wheelchair-high".

There are a few caged birds, and he hopes to add domestic animals like cats or dogs as pet therapy is calming, especially for those with dementia, he said.

The VWO started its first home in Hougang 29 years ago, and added a second in Tampines about 15 years ago. It added two more homes this year, leased from the MOH. One of these is the one in Yishun. The other, at Jurong East, has a dedicated dementia ward.

Mr Quah said if the garden concept works well, it will try them at the other homes, especially hydroponics which needs less space.

This article was first published on Nov 3, 2015.
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