By Alison Sprigg, Volunteer Gardener

Just lately there’s been a lot of media coverage on the subject of gardening’s benefits to both mental and physical health. Here at Chaseley we’ve known about these benefits for a long time: the pleasure and satisfaction of getting involved, whether in the garden itself – where the raised beds are ideally placed at wheelchair height for a spot of weeding, watering or simply contemplating – or sitting at tables to fill pots with spring bulbs or summer bedding plants, ready for the next glorious display on the terrace.

Gardening is all about optimism; planning and looking forward to the next season. And that in itself brings feelings of hope and fulfilment as we await, and then witness, the results of our latest schemes. This in turn is beneficial to a sense of wellbeing.

When I started as Chaseley’s volunteer gardener in January 2023, my first priority was to establish a sensory garden in the overgrown ring of eight raised beds. After much digging, sawing, tugging and general removal of overgrown shrubs and rampant weeds, the beds were ready for fresh soil and then – joyfully! – it was time to choose and plant a wide variety of scented herbs, flowers, grasses, succulents, and plants that simply make you want to touch them and feel their textures. I’m delighted to report that our residents and staff are very pleased with the results, and have even held reading groups in the sensory garden on warm sunny days, protected from too much sun by the new, permanent awning placed in the centre.

Naturally we wanted to mark King Charles’ Coronation in May. Having cleared the raised beds facing the lawn beyond the terrace, I was able to enjoy sourcing early-summer plants in shades of red, white and blue – all set off by a purple pot of golden chrysanthemums donated to us and placed on a plinth in the centre; our very own nod to His Majesty’s crown!

As part of the Big Help Out organised nationally for the Coronation weekend, we held a Volunteers’ Day in the garden. More than twenty willing participants joined us, and achieved fantastic results in clearing the neglected back garden, establishing an area for our compost bins, and removing some enormous palms which were dominating parts of the sensory garden. Everyone then enjoyed one of those delicious lunches which are such a speciality at Chaseley!

Meanwhile the old fig tree, which was blocking the steps from the lawn down to the sensory garden and inhibiting the bluebell area, was sawn down to just above the base of its trunk. That whole area has now been opened up.

Once the bluebells had finished blooming and had died back, a wildflower meadow area could be established. This bloomed very satisfactorily and gave great pleasure to so many people – residents, staff and visitors alike. Just sitting quietly, watching the butterflies, bees and other pollinators visiting our site, and enjoying the wild flowers swaying gently and colourfully in the breeze, brought a sense of calm and closeness to the natural world.

Meanwhile, the raised salad bed on the terrace proved very ‘fruitful’, as did our pots of tomatoes and strawberries. Being able to take fresh produce from garden to kitchen has been a particular joy for me – and much appreciated by our chef and his team.

Autumn brought the riches of colourful leaves, stems, cones and rosehips, which were used by our ever-resourceful craft and entertainments team who worked with our residents to make seasonal decorations.

As we look forward to the start of another gardening year, I’d like to thank everyone who has been so encouraging and involved with the garden: residents, staff, fellow-volunteers and visitors. Your delight in our garden is a breath of fresh air!