Rain or shine, one morning a month from early spring to late autumn, a group of people living with dementia and their companions or carers, along with a number of volunteers, gather to enjoy the seasons and some quality time together at community allotment PLOT 22 in Hove.
Dementia Inclusive Gardening, or simply DIG is a creative collaboration between social enterprise Story Chaplain and community allotment PLOT 22. Together, our hope is to encourage everyone, including people living with dementia and those affected by it, to get outdoors and connect with the seasons, as well as with one another. More and more research is confirming what we experience each session together; that whether or not we are living with dementia, there are many benefits of spending time in nature, whatever the weather.
After welcoming each participant, everyone is invited to share what they like about the current season. It might be the colours, the smells or the sounds. Meeting outside in a circle (or in the cabin if it’s too chilly to be chatting outside), we have the cues of the seasons around us. We can see what the season is doing so the invitation to reflect does not rely on memory so much as making a connection and observation in the moment. Maybe we can hear the birds singing, smell the blossom, or occasionally feel the warmth of the sun. Last session we had the unexpected delight of taking off a layer and digging out the straw hats and sun-cream, which led to spontaneous reminiscence about sun cream smelling like holidays and the start of warmer days.
Once we all feel settled into the space, we have a think about possible ways to spend the morning, inspired by the season. There may be seeds we can plant – so far this year we have planted beetroot, broad beans and potatoes – or maybe there is something we can harvest. Last session we had the great joy or harvesting purple sprouting broccoli, rainbow chard and even a little rhubarb. Colourful spoils indeed, and we all agreed that food we had picked ourselves always tasted better than shop bought, even when it’s just a handful of herbs.
As well as planting and harvesting, some of our time together is spent simply pottering round the allotment, noticing the seasons. As our sessions take place once a month, the changes we notice from one time to the next are striking. One month the branches may be bare but full of sweet-smelling blossom the following month. Or where the ground seems mostly brown and bare, the following month there may be a carpet of smiling daffodils or nodding bluebells. And every month we keep an eye out for any herbs we can pick as we walk past: peppermint, lavender and rosemary are all favourites.
As we gather together at the close of each session for a cup of tea and a snack (sometimes toasted on the wood burner in the cabin, which always adds extra flavour and enjoyment), we reflect on our time together. Again, this is not to place an emphasis on remembering what has happened, so much as to celebrate the here-and-now of the season, and being together.
Is there anything you particularly like about this season? Is there a way you can capture that? Maybe a reflection of a few lines, a picture of the season, a vase of seasonal flowers, or some fresh produce, whether or not you have grown it. Noticing the season is always in season.
Story Chaplain is a social enterprise made up of a collection of creative arts projects for people who are living with dementia, and their carers.
Visit http://www.storychaplain.com/ for more information.