By Master Gardener Dorothy
Aberdeen Park is an 11-bed rehabilitation unit, part of Camden and Islington NHS Foundation in North London. It offers support with independent living for people with high needs and intensive recovery and rehabilitation for people who have been in acute services.
The unit is housed in a beautiful Victorian house in a leafy residential area. It has a large garden, much of which is shaded by big trees and privet hedges.
Gardening sessions were initiated by Anna, the occupational therapist. Sessions were attended by Master Gardeners Anita and Dorothy, Anna, one or two students or staff members and up to four residents, one of whom moved out to a less supported placement but continued to come back for some outreach sessions and two who came from another mental health ward for the sessions and subsequently moved to Aberdeen Park. (No names have been used for reasons of confidentiality).
At our first session we talked about the importance of sunlight for growing fruit and vegetables. We decided that in summer the lawn in front of the railings beneath the kitchen and sitting room windows would get the most sun.
As the ground was sloping with a steep drop to the basement beneath, it was decided that vegetables should be planted in pots, rather than trying to dig a bed there. We have since built a raised bed at our Master Gardeners Up-cycling Training Day which will be used, and we hope, added to in the future.
In our sessions we planted into larger pots thriving courgette plants that had previously been grown from seed, and thinned out basil plants. We drank elderflower cordial and talked about how it is made from the blossoms on the elder bush behind the house.
We planted a great variety of seeds, including rocket, carrots, spring onions and some tomato seedlings, as well as wallflowers and hollyhocks, labelling them and watering them carefully.
The residents watered and fed them, first with Tomorite and then with very smelly home made comfrey tea. We talked about pests – and discussed organic ways of dealing with slugs and snails. Residents learned how to pinch out, stake and tie in tomato plants.
When the courgettes were ripe they were harvested by residents and used in a courgette and butterfly pasta (recipe below) which we were told was very popular with staff and residents.
On a rainy day we stayed indoors and discussed future plans. Two residents were very keen to plant flowers and talked about the flowers they remembered their parents growing. We took in seed heads – nigella, aquilegia, poppy, calendula and delphinium and talked about how plants propagate, then removed the seeds and sowed them on a bare patch of lawn.
The garden is lacking in wildlife, as apart from a newly planted bed at the front there are no flowering or fruiting shrubs. We talked about the importance of pollinators and took cuttings of lavender, rosemary and erysimum, which can be planted around the garden when they are larger to encourage bees and butterflies and other pollinators.
Anna has been very supportive and enthusiastic, and good at encouraging residents to attend. They are very keen to continue our gardening sessions after she leaves. They are not put off by the onset of winter. “I’ll just put on a jumper,” said one.
Recipe for Courgette Pasta
Butterfly pasta, medium-sized courgettes, 2tbsp olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, crushed, pinch of chilli flakes, freshly grated Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil
Cut the courgette into quarters lengthwise and then chop into smallish pieces. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the courgettes, garlic and chilli. Stir over the heat until soft and beginning to caramelise slightly. When the pasta is cooked, drain it well and return it to the pan. Add the courgette and Parmesan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the timing instructions on the packet, or until al dente
Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and extra grated parmesan.
I haven’t put specific amounts but I’d allow at least one courgette and 100 grams of pasta per person – more if they are hungry. Bon appetite.
Master Gardeners are food-growing champions who share their knowledge with others to help them start to grow their own food.
They work across the boroughs of Camden and Islington, giving around 30 hours of their time a year. They are supported with training from national charity Garden Organic. Does this sound like you? Contact Liza if you would like to know more.
Master Gardeners can support vulnerable people to start growing their own food at home or in community gardens. Contact Liza for more details.
Read more Case Studies from Master Gardeners here