As water garden professionals we have long professed the benefits of “community-build” projects. Community builds served as the core of Chips Landscaping’s introduction to the profession and training as Certified Aquascape® Contractors (CACs). We found great value in these experiences over the years and continue the tradition of offering up a build annually within our community. Those of us who have participated in community builds know firsthand the camaraderie, teamwork and joy of the finished product after a good days work. But little has been written regarding outcomes after the build.
In April of 2010 Chips Landscaping was invited by a national retailer with a Saratoga Springs location to partner with them on their “Go- Green” community project. The retailer had firsthand knowledge of us as local sustainable landscapers and water garden professionals. With our like values in “going green” and giving back to the local community, the retailer invited us to partner with them on an Earth Day project. This partnership would combine Chips Landscaping skills, labor and materials along with monies and volunteers for the day from the retailer to “green the community”. They relied upon our local knowledge of the community to choose a nonprofit organization that might benefit from the partnership and project. We immediately selected a worthy community organization and proposed an eco-friendly Aquascape Pondless Waterfall™.
We selected The Wesley Community in Saratoga Springs, New York. The community seemed a perfect match for the investment of time, donations and valued outcome. The Wesley Community offers a full range of living, and health services to folks in the Saratoga region. They include: independent senior living, enriched living adult day services, short-term rehabilitation, long-term nursing care and outpatient therapies for all ages. In addition, there is an on-site YMCA child daycare program for working families in the area. This commitment to intergenerational programming and our commitment to sustainable practices, again a perfect fit!
So we began our design process. Our goal was to provide an interactive style garden that may serve therapeutically for residents and their families in the community using the multisensory elements of sight, sound, fragrance, full season low maintenance plantings, color, texture, shape and the constant movement of water. We proposed this new garden feature in a central courtyard, adjacent to the main entrance that generally lacked visual appeal and was noted by the facility administration as an “underused” area.
Our initial proposal meeting with Brian Nealon CEO and his staff at Wesley was challenging. This was new territory for the region. We could not reference any other health care locations where such a project was completed. Michele Southern, Executive Director of the Wesley Foundation, in retrospect explained: “a water feature was such a foreign concept, seemed ambiguous at first; we were unable to conceive how this would impact our outdoor area. But we found the passion and energy in the proposal contagious and just had a great feel for it. We had no idea it would touch so many in the community”.
So the build took place Saturday April 24th, Earth Day 2010. The feedback from The Wesley Community was phenomenal. They marveled at the organization and fun of the build as well as the seamless team work of 30 odd people who never worked together! All embraced the opportunity to contribute to real physical change in the facility from the CEO, CFO, Administration, Board members, nutritional services and staff from all departments. The national retailer boasted employees and funds from 3 different store locations in the New York Capital Region. They brought a host of volunteers ranging from regional management, store management and a variety of store employees. Michele, the Wesley Foundation Executive Director, related that the hands-on assistance provided a direct return on the investment. This was remarkably different for them as they were accustomed to set dollar donations. She explained that the physical hands-on nature of the build personalized the contribution and there is that daily visual reminder in the water feature presence. Great excitement was observed among the residents and visitors being able to watch the transition of the build. This was not an everyday occurrence!
Months after the build I returned to the facility and conducted interviews to examine the impact of the feature on the residents, visitors, staff and programs at the Wesley. It provided remarkable perspective and some interesting new twists to the value of water features in health and wellness.
A common thread in every conversation was the remarkable increase in use of the courtyard now hosting the water feature. More lunches are enjoyed by the feature, daily walk-bys as “stress busters” and a new destination for residents and their families. It now serves as a conversation starter. The water sound and movement, plants and their seasonal changes, as well as the fragrance of particular plants stimulate the senses to jump start dialog and help many engage in their surroundings. It has served as a compliment to the central entry of Wesley with “WOW” factor and a sense of the commitment and care the community has to being “home” to the folks who reside there. Family who may be reluctant to bring their loved one to long term care see the feature and this gives them a unique connection with the community’s mission.
A fascinating piece of information gained from conversation with the activities director took into account the culture of their population and the rural nature of the surrounding community. Many of the folks coming to live on campus come from farms and properties with backyards and gardens. Unlike an urban setting, these folks really miss the outdoor elements when they come to stay in a traditionally designed alternative living environment. This water feature and surrounding seasonal gardens gives them a sense of comfort and joy as well as true sense of home.
The memory care coordinator added new considerations for health and welfare of those with varying levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This group of residents now benefits from the feature during their daily “memory walks”. It has been a great conversation starter as they review the change of seasons; engage in questions about how the feature works, what happens to it in the winter, and what new plants are in bloom. The design of the garden plantings is more traditional in nature so many in the aging population relate to the flower, color, fragrance and texture. They may also remember having the plant in their own yard.
The security of folks with memory care needs is of great concern and requires 24/7 supervision. The location of the water feature in a central enclosed courtyard has allowed for greater independent mobility of these individuals. Most notably the feature is used as a “mood chaser”. Decreasing stress is a real issue for individuals with memory care needs. Frustration and tendencies for “cabin-fever” abound. So the calming sound and visual of the feature is a therapeutic adjunct to their programming.
As water garden professionals we have tremendous skills and talents to offer the general community at large. We can encourage volunteers to work in concert towards a project that will endure and benefit many for years to come. We are just beginning to realize the benefits health and wellness these features bring to those individuals in a variety of both public and private settings.