“We’re leaving a legacy, that’s what we’re doing. This garden is a legacy.”
Noel Norton is one of a group of patients, staff and community members who for the past few months has been planting the seeds, literally and figuratively, of a new garden and outdoor space on BRHS’ Flanagan Ward.
Supported by community donations of seeds, plants, planter boxes and tools, Noel and two of his fellow Flanagan Ward inpatients, Peter Kinder and Robert Towns, have been working under the guidance of Nurses Dina Schreuder and Vicki Spencer, transforming a once drab and underutilised space into a colourful feature, now a favourite hangout of staff and patients.
For Robert, Peter and Noel, the garden is not only a point of pride and satisfaction – it’s become a key part of their ongoing rehabilitation.
“It’s about motivation, mate,” Peter said, when asked what he likes about working on the new garden and courtyard. Having done a lot of landscaping work before, this project is work he was naturally drawn to.
“Rather than just sit inside all day, we get out here, we get our hands dirty and we accomplish something. And the company is good. It makes me very happy, being out here.”
Peter’s daughter, Sharon, has been a big supporter of the Flanagan garden.
When she heard her Dad and some of the other patients were starting the garden, she put out a call through social media for donations of supplies.
“Heaps of people responded with donations,” Peter said. “The community support for our little project has been really amazing.”
On a day we visited to take photos, Dina’s Dad had delivered several boxes of strawberry plants.
Patients on Flanagan Ward are often undertaking lengthy periods of rehabilitation, and sometimes spend six months or more on the ward.
Dina said the courtyard project had become a hugely important part of the patients’ therapy, and was particularly important to their mental wellness at a time when, because of COVID restrictions, they were unable to receive regular visitors.
“I’ve seen the faces of very satisfied patients happily talking about what they want to do in the gardens,” Dina said. “As a nurse, it makes me so happy to see patients motivated and engaging in our courtyard gardens.”
Today, the space is transformed from what is was just a few months ago.
But, they’re not done yet. The staff and patients are already throwing around ideas for a next phase of the courtyard improvement project, including wall murals, a water feature, a bird bath and feeder, more raised garden beds, and a sensory garden.
“The enthusiasm and discussion between the patients have been wonderful to observe,” said Flanagan Nurse Vicki Spencer. “The patients recently took a visit to see the Gunaikurnai murals in Yarning Garden near Oncology and Dialysis – it was completely their own initiative – to get some inspiration for what they envisage for the Flanagan courtyard in the future.”
The improvements have already made a noticeable difference – the outdoor space is much more used than it was before, as not only a space for the patients, but also a peaceful spot of respite and relaxation for the nursing staff.
But it’s also had a more intangible impact on Flanagan, as a powerful example of what staff, patients and the community can do when they work together.
Like Noel said, it’s a legacy, and one that will keep blooming for many seasons ahead.