Great Croft day centre has a dramatically lovely garden again – this time fully accessible from patio to top lawn – thanks to the green fingers of Ann Treneman and a team of dedicated volunteers.
Whatever the season American-born Ann Treneman’s planting at Great Croft day centre aims to offer a riot of colour and scents. It’s also a lovely place to spot the green-feathered parakeets flying over or enjoy watching action at the bird feeders.
“I’d never volunteered before as I work full time,” says Ann, 63, chief theatre critic at The Times who began volunteering in autumn 2017 at Great Croft (which specialises in dementia care) thanks to a request from her friend and regular Age UK Camden volunteer, Jade Amias.
“Jade said the manager, Abul had the brilliant idea of re-doing the outdoor space because sensory gardens are ideal for people who have memory issues,” says Ann. Research shows that the stimulation of colours, smells and wildlife bring back positive memories, relieves tension and can encourage people to take some exercise.
Luckily Ann, who splits her time between Barnet and Bakewell in Derbyshire, is a keen gardener, with an RHS Level 2 Certificate in Plants & Garden design, and was eager to plan and plant.
Now the new sensory garden has something going on all the time. There’s scent all year, plants that feel different, or are brightly coloured and lots of plants that users of the centre love – roses, daffodils, tulips, snowdrops and herbs.
Next step was to deal with the soil. “It was backbreaking double digging what seemed to be pure clay and builders’ rubble. We put in at least 50 wheelbarrows of compost. Our goal was to make it easier for plants to thrive. Planting was the easy part,” says Ann who put in more than 70 plants in May creating five distinct areas.
The garden’s showstopper is a water feature (paid for by Criteo) surrounded by big leafed tropical-looking plants including a banana tree and plants with big shiny leaves (caster oil plants and ficus japonicus) set off by the rustling bamboo growing in giant pots.
Who can resist running their hand through a herb bed with all its kitchen garden smells? At Great Croft the herb bed has the plants’ names neatly written on diamond-shaped
bits of slate. “Thyme, mint, sage, parsley, rosemary and chives are perfect plants for a sensory garden. There’s also a row of lavender,” explains Ann adding that Wyevale Garden Centre in Potters Bar donated all the herbs.
“There’s a small plot with annuals which we’ll change each season,” says Anne. “This summer it was salvia, petunias, and a plant with soft white leaves called stachys byzantine (also known as lamb’s ear). For winter expect pansies and then enjoy new season flowering from February of black tulips and scented orange wallflowers.
Easy to see from the centre’s new conservatory, directly behind a long timber bench on the patio, there’s now a wide mixed border. “Along the front we are planting spring bulbs (snowdrops/daffodils) and summer bulbs (lilies). Along the back we’ve put some roses and evergreen shrubs to give a little bit of structure. The Christmas box is very heavily scented and so is mahonia (which has spikey yellow flowers). We have wicker tepees dotted around which we are growing things up (clematis and sweet peas) which adds a little drama,” says Ann.
During its first summer the garden was a wow. Lunch for the attendees of the centre was often served on the patio and the bunting from three BBQ parties is still fluttering. Homegrown herbs are added when the centre cooks lunch, mint is served in drinks, flowers are sometimes picked for a vase and there is a vegetable crop from the plot at the top near the espaliered fruit trees.
“I’ve always gardened, my whole life, but it was heart-warming to see how much people enjoyed just sitting out there – looking at the plants, listening to the water. It is really fulfilling,” adds Ann who already has plans to plant the bulbs that will soon be creeping up telling us it’s nearly spring again.
You’ll find our wonderful new sensory garden at the Great Croft Day Centre, Cromer St, WC1H, which is open to members and residents.