VERLEY Charles has always been an active woman and she still thoroughly enjoys looking after the garden behind her neat terraced house in Hayes.
She first became interested as a child in her native Jamaica, where her father allocated Verley and her 15 siblings a patch of garden each, in which they could plant and grow their own favourite flowers and plants.
When she came to the UK, Verley enjoyed a long career as a nurse but still managed to maintain her garden, growing colourful flowers and several varieties of vegetable and herbs from the Caribbean.
In 1993, she lost the sight in her left eye and her right eye also began to deteriorate rapidly. She was determined to continue tending her flowers for as long as possible. Then one morning, as she was eating breakfast, she saw how beautiful one rose bush was outside her back door. She took a pair of clippers but instead of cutting some blooms for a vase, chopped down the washing line.
“I just sat on the step and laughed my head off,” said Verley, 73.
“I knew my eyesight was getting worse but I didn’t realise it was that bad.”
Help came in the guise of Healing Gardens. The not-for-profit group is an offshoot of Groundwork South, the environmental charity based at Denham Country Park, which comes to the aid of people who can no longer tend their gardens.
Manager Barry Watson says his team of dedicated volunteers overhauls more than 70 gardens in the borough each year.
“Healing Gardens provides major benefits both for the recipients of the work and for the volunteers who undertake it,” he said.
“It enables people to give something back to their community and learn new skills. It can also rebuild the confidence of people who have suffered illness and it provides a social outlet for the isolated.”
Verley said: “They are such lovely people. They come once a year to help trim back the roses and other plants I can’t reach. I save up my loose change during the year and take it to the Healing Gardens new year party as a way of saying thank you. Barry always says ‘Here’s the lady who’s raided her gas meter again!’”
Ninety-two-year-old Syd Wilson, of Park Road, Uxbridge, also greatly values the support Healing Gardens can provide.
“I love my garden but it was becoming more and more difficult to manage it. Three years ago, I heard about Healing Gardens.
“Barry Watson came and talked it over with me and we agreed that the garden needed redesigning to make it easier to maintain. They sent a team of six people one day a week for three weeks and remodelled the garden, laying paving stones, changing the shape of the lawn and generally tidying it up. They were incredibly friendly and kept me involved the whole way through so that I got exactly what I wanted.”
As well as practical help, Healing Gardens organises occasional trips to gardens and garden centres to help encourage clients to keep gardening.
It is clearly a valued service and one that provides a real lift. People who have benefited would be devastated to lose it, but that is a real possibility.
When the service started in 1997, it was funded by a three-year lottery grant. That was superseded by funding from Hillingdon NHS Primary Care Trust until 2007, when that source, too, was axed.
The charity has had no choice but to start charging for its services – £25 for half a day or £50 for a full day, which buys a team of four people. But this does not come close to covering the cost of running the service, which is about £19,000 a year.
Groundwork operations manager Kathleen Healy said: “We are continuing to look for additional sources of funding but unless we find a benefactor soon, we shall be faced with having to close Healing Gardens altogether, possibly as early as next March. That would leave a lot of people struggling to cope.”
■ If you can help, contact Kathleen Healy by calling on 07850 310 865 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to volunteer to help tidy gardens, call Barry Watson on 01895 839 841 or email email@example.com.