It’s a garden unlike any other that you’re likely to experience today but for those of us who lived through the 50s, it will be a nostalgic step back in time. With lots of treasures from yester-year, this 50s-themed show garden at Bord Bia’s Bloom features gnomes, pink flamingos, a Singer sewing machine, a High Nelly bike, a gramophone, a wireless, and many more decades’ old treasures. Of course, it’s a garden after all, and there will be lots of flowers and shrubs synonymous with that decade too, with geraniums, foxglove wild flowers, daisies and tea roses creating a dazzling riot of colour and fragrant burst of scent.
The “Memories are Made of This” garden – named after the tune made famous by 50’s crooner Dean Martin – has been created to take visitors on a trip down memory lane by the HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign and award-winning designer, Robert Moore. In the company of Dean Martin tribute act, Adrian Cullen, it was officially launched today by broadcaster Ciara Kelly, whose mum passed away in 2017 and who had previously been diagnosed with dementia. Appropriately dressed for the occasion in 50’s costume, Ciara was joined in the garden by her son Blaise (age 9) and his best friend Lily Bateman-Cullen (age 9).
People with dementia and their families are being especially encouraged to visit the show garden which is taking pride of place at Bord Bia’s Bloom in Dublin’s Phoenix Park this June bank holiday weekend (May 30-June 3). Following Bloom, the garden will continue to live on and be enjoyed following its relocation to St Ita’s Community Hospital in Newcastle West, Limerick.
The garden comes against a backdrop of more than 4,000 people developing dementia in Ireland each year. Indeed, it’s estimated that there are 55,000 people living with the condition here. That number is expected to more than double to 113,000 by 2036. Half a million of us have had a family member with dementia.
For Ciara Kelly, notwithstanding the challenges her mum, Julie, faced in her final years living with dementia before she passed away in May 2017, there was great joy for the family in listening to her accounts of growing up in Dublin:
“Allowing people with dementia to reminisce is so important. Like others with dementia, my mum struggled with her short-term memory but she had such strong memories of the past, of her parents and of her childhood. She lived in Hope Street in Ringsend and loved recalling the tales of the time she spent there as a child growing up. I actually learned so much about my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends, listening to stories that I would never really have heard before. She was confident talking about those times because she remembered every detail and you could see the comfort that gave her. It is important that we give people the time to talk about the past, to reminisce, and to show interest in their stories. I also think, as a society, that we need to talk more about dementia and start conversations about it. So many people are afraid of discussing it if they have fears about it, and are afraid of being judged. That needs to end.”
The Story of Our Lives
For garden designer, Robert Moore, collaborating with people with dementia and their loved ones was key to its design:
“In coming up with the design for this garden, we wanted to get a real sense of what gardens were like back in the 50s. It was important for us to be authentic and true to that time. Therefore, it was a real honour to meet with people from the Bloomfield Social Club in Rathfarnham who let us into their lives and shared wonderful memories of those times in the garden. The result is a garden of two parts. There’s the iconic manicured “front garden” which, we hope, offers a feast for the eyes with its structured box hedges and tea roses. And then there’s the much more practical “back garden” with its fruit and vegetable patch offering a feast for the table. This garden is the collective story of people’s lives back then and we aim to bring that time vividly back to life today. We hope that when people visit, it will conjure up moving and heart-warming memories.”
Valuing What’s Remembered, Not Forgotten
For Dr. Suzanne Timmons, Clinical Lead of the HSE’s National Dementia Office, the garden is about facilitating the therapeutic benefits of reminiscence:
“The HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign has been part of the Bloom festival by Bord Bia for three years now. Where previously we have emphasised the health and social benefits of getting out and about in the garden, this year the focus is also on stimulating reminiscence. We know that reminiscing has a positive effect on the quality of life of people with dementia, and for some recalling memories from years gone by is often easier than remembering more recent events. This garden is about stimulating the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste from the 50s. So, whether it’s seeing a High Nelly bike leaning up against a stone wall, hearing Dean Martin on the wireless, smelling a rose, touching a daisy, or tasting a raspberry, the aim is to whisk the person back in time. It is about highlighting the importance and value of what is remembered and not what is forgotten.”
The Bloomfield Social Club in Dublin run by The Alzheimer Society of Ireland helped to inform the design and content elements of the garden. For Tim O’Looney, from Templeogue, whose wife Rita was diagnosed with dementia two years ago, the club has been a lifeline:
“The diagnosis of dementia certainly took us by surprise. Rita had a few incidents where she had some confusion driving but they seemed like small things that you could easily put down to advancing years. So, although Rita has dementia, her personality is still all there – there’s very little change in that respect. Rita might repeat things or ask the same questions, but otherwise she is able to chat away as normal. She’s learning her limitations in terms of walking. Having been the carer for her father in his later years, and for our son Brian, who has Down syndrome, Rita certainly finds it hard now not to be the one to look after everyone. Rita doesn’t like sitting back and letting other people do the work, and sometimes she pushes herself too far. I suppose she is just trying to come to terms with her condition and accept that she isn’t able to do as much as she used to. When I suggested going to the Bloomfield Social Club, Rita was initially very reluctant and apprehensive. However, now thanks to the wonderfully warm and welcoming staff, she has been transformed and we are meeting many new friends which is great.”
Top Tips to Stimulate Reminiscence in Your Garden
- Find the Scent of a Rose. There is nothing like the scent and elegance of an old tea rose to transport you back in time. Why not consider planting one in your garden later this autumn?
- Hit the right note. Why not incorporate features such as wind-chimes to gently usher you to a world of peace and tranquility? Or perhaps put in a gramophone in your back shed and throw a few shapes with Elvis Presley on the deck?
- Be cool as a cucumber. Remember when you’d pop out to the back garden for a head of lettuce, a handful of onions or some rhubarb? Why not install an easy-to-manage vegetable patch? You can start with a small raised bed in your sunniest spot.
- Seek the object of the exercise. Do pink flamingos take you back to a bygone world? Why not resurrect your mischievous gnomes and place them around the garden? They are sure to give you a warm feeling and become a real talking point for visitors.
- Have the Midas touch. Remember the feeling of those daisies and how you plucked each petal as a kid – “she loves me, she loves me not”? Other flowers and plants that are sure to conjure up golden memories include lupins, delphiniums, primulas and, garden favourite, geraniums.
The show garden is one of a range of initiatives by the HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign to create an Ireland that embraces and includes people with dementia, and that displays solidarity with them and their families. For more information, including a service-finder detailing county-by-county dementia supports and services available, visit www.understandtogether.ie or Freephone 1800 341 341.