Flowers for the care home, at last….

Cosmos and dahlias from my plot

It’s almost two years since we’ve been allowed to take flowers into care homes. Any flowers, shop-bought or home-grown, were deemed a covid risk and banned. But this weekend the rules changed, and suddenly flowers are allowed again. I am beyond excited and relieved as flowers from my garden have a special meaning for my mother-in-law Joan.

Dahlia Nuit d’Ete grows to 1.2m with deep red semi-cactus flowers.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as I was this weekend wandering around my plot choosing flowers for Joan. It’s been such a sad time not being able to visit, or send flowers. I started growing cut flowers when Joan began showing signs of vascular dementia. Flowers have always been our special connection. We loved arranging them together. I realised she would one day forget who I was, but hoped the flowers would always remind her of me. And for many years it worked. Even when she forgot my name I was ‘someone who brought flowers.’ While she was still in her own home, I took armfuls of flowers- one of everything in flower- and foliage as well, to give a flavour of what was growing in my garden. I didn’t make them into arrangements, they were just loosely tied with string. Then Joan would spend the day creating her own posies, selecting vases and deciding where to place them- one in the front window to cheer up passers-by, one on the hall table to welcome carers who came twice a day, a few vases for the fireplace. We sat and surveyed her work, ate home-made cake, sipped tea and marvelled at the beauty of flowers, noting all the different colours and shapes. I included lavender, mint and rosemary for scent and the memories they evoked. Joan remembered a lavender bed at her childhood home and the Sunday meals with mint sauce and rosemary. It’s strange how childhood memories are the last to fade. We talked for hours about the flowers, fruit and vegetables her father grew. They had bee hives at the bottom of the garden, and the taste of honey took her right back to those happy times. There have been many heartbreaking moments, but one I particularly remember is Joan thinking her father was just upstairs. I had the choice of going along with it, or telling Joan her father had died many years ago. Neither was an easy choice, and whatever I said, five minutes later, we’d have to go through the same conversation. Flowers were a welcome distraction and something we could both agree on. Eventually, Joan lost the ability to arrange her own flowers. I did them for her and raged at the disease for stealing something that Joan so much enjoyed. Dementia, bit by bit, destroys all happiness as the processes for even the smallest task are completely forgotten. And people too, are forgotten, even those who’ve been very close and much loved. It’s so sad to watch someone desperately fighting to hold on to names and relationships. Joan would say, “I know you are someone dear to me, but tell me who you are and who am I to you.” When Joan moved to the care home, I continued the tradition with the flowers. But the pandemic meant the home was locked down for almost all of last year. Leicester remained in lockdown when other cities were released from restrictions. There were 16 deaths at Joan’s care home. Just a few weeks ago we were all set to visit when the home was locked down again due to another covid outbreak. This weekend the all clear was given and we were allowed in, and here’s some of the flowers I took with me.

Cosmos Psyche White. Ruffled, semi-double flowers. Grows to 1.2m and flowers from June to October.

I’m so pleased to be able to join in with Cathy and ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme again as you’ve all followed my journey from the beginning. It’s been a comfort to write about my ups and downs here on the blog. There’s been laughter at times- there have been quite a few predicaments as you can imagine- and many challenges. I can’t pretend there haven’t been many tears too, and rage and sadness. But now there’s a kind of acceptance and peace. Joan doesn’t have the faintest idea who I am, but she does think I’m a ‘very nice lady’ come to visit her, and I can live with that. And the flowers still give us something cheerful to talk about.

A scented-leaf pelargonium I’ve kept going from a cutting my father-in-law gave me.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope my story helps if you are going through a similar situation. At any rate, keep trying, because any small kindness will always be appreciated. Even if it’s just a few flowers.

I chose bright red dahlias as Joan’s husband used to grow these for flower shows and at one time almost all the back garden was given over to straight rows of dahlias and chrysanthemums.

I took jam jars filled with sweet peas. Joan recognised these immediately as they had once been grown by her father, and she remembers picking them and arranging them in vases for chapel. It’s so sad that dementia is almost like a time travelling disease. It transports Joan back to when she was a young girl, but completely erases the past 80 years and with it her husband, three children, grandchildren and two new great grandchildren. She’s left walking amongst the ghosts of long dead relatives- her mother and father, cousins and school friends. It’s a tragedy for her, and all of us trying, and loosing a battle to keep her in the present.

Rudbeckias, calendula and green seed heads from Ammi majus

Joan loves sunflowers, but they aren’t quite ready in my garden yet. These rudbeckias grown from a mixed packet of seed look just as bright and cheerful.

These calendulas are seedlings of C. Snow Princess, a lovely pale butter -yellow flower. They bloom from May to October if deadheaded regularly. Very good for attracting bees and butterflies.

Flowering marjoram, rosemary and mint add a lovely fragrance. As soon as you lightly touch the posies, the herbs release their scent, and unlock all the memories associated with them.

White snapdragon, Antirrhinum Royal Bride. Joan knew to press the sides of the flowers together. A favourite childhood game was to make the flowers open like a mouth. We used to call them bunny flowers, she said.

A photo of Joan on her wedding day carrying a bouquet of carnations and asparagus fern. The photo is in a metal Players cigarette box frame my father-in-law made to protect the picture while he carried it around during National Service in Korea in the 1950s. He didn’t smoke, I hasten to add, but he was good at recycling and ‘making-do’ all through his life.

There’s nothing nicer than being able to give someone a gift of flowers you’ve grown yourself. Are any of you growing flowers for cutting this year? I feel as if I haven’t any other weapons in my battle to defeat dementia. Flowers are holding us together, that little bit longer. Let’s hope they continue to work a kind of magic. I’m hopeful they will. I’ll keep you updated.

Notes and links:

For more information and help with dementia: https://www.dementiauk.org/

Calendula: Mr Fothergill’s https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/Calendula-Snow-Princess-Seeds.html#.YUMiaxB4WfA

Cosmos: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Cosmos-Seed/Cosmos-Psyche-White-Seeds.html#.YUMi9hB4WfA

Rudbeckias: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Rudbeckia-Seed/Rudbeckia-Rustic-Dwarfs-Mixed.html#.YUMlPhB4WfA

Rudbeckias: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Rudbeckia-Seed/Rudbeckia-Gloriosa-Daisies.html#.YUMlmRB4WfA

Sweet peas: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Tall_3/Sweet-Pea-Horizon-Mixed-Seeds.html#.YUMmLRB4WfA

Heritage sweet peas: https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/shop/easton-walled-gardens-sweet-pea-mix/

Ammi: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/A-Z-Flower-Seeds/Ammi-majus_2.html#.YUMmeRB4WfA

Herbs from https://www.pepperpotherbplants.co.uk/

Dahlias from https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/product-category/summer-bulbs/dahlias

Peat free compost I use is from https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

Plant mulch and feed I use from https://www.plantgrow.co.uk/

You can also find me @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.

31 thoughts on “Flowers for the care home, at last….

  1. From one Karen to another your flowers are gorgeous and I’ve no doubt J will love receiving them. Thank goodness you’re finally able to do so again.

    My Nan had dementia and died in her 90’s. It’s a cruel disease that robs the person of their personality and the knowledge of yours. I’m sure she’ll recognise kindness in your actions and will enjoy the flowers after you’ve left x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Karen. I’m so sorry to hear about your Nan. It is a really cruel disease that causes so much anguish all round. I find that my only weapon to fight it is with flowers. Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind words which mean a lot. All the best. Karen x

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    • Thank you so much Vanessa. So very true. I love these words and I’ll remember them: “ Joy to the receiver and strength to the giver.” Thank you again. All the best. Karen x

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  2. What a touching post, Karen, so honestly written. We can only try and empathise with the range of emotions you have experienced throughout your relationship with J, as they are so personal to you, but nevertheless will no doubt strike a chord with any who has gone or are going through anything slightly similar. Thank you for sharing your blooms and underlying thoughts with us

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen I know who J is and how much you love her and have always loved her. Karen I know how much you have suffered from her illness – her dementia – hers and how much she suffered from having to take her for her condition and her safety to the Nursing Home better than you found. Karen knows the union that you have always had with J with the flowers and how every week you took her flowers to her house and then to the Nursing Home that you grew in your garden especially for her and how those flowers have always united you despite the progress Of his sickness. The Covid Pandemic has separated you from her for almost two years to see her – from her car – and not be able to send her flowers. You have suffered a great deal and your heart has been broken during this time. Now you can finally bring your wonderful flowers back to her, and even though J is worse from dementia, you have both been able to talk about the flowers, even if it is very hard that you are only for J “a very nice woman who comes to visit her”: thus dementia is terrible, but you have to accept it despite all the pain in your heart, the sadness and anger of seeing how a person so loved is losing all his memories. But J continues to rejoice with your wonderful flowers and talk to you about them: that must be a source of joy for you, Karen, he still likes flowers as always. Karen I am not going to list all your magnificent flowers and the history that many have, but I love them all and I love them so much more because they are grown with love for J. The photos of the flowers are fabulous. Health, strength, encouragement, hope, positive thinking and a lot of love for your whole family, Mr B and for you. Take good care of each other. Hugs, lots of love and best wishes. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita xxx 😘🙏💚🌻

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Margarita. Thanks for your very kind comments. Sending hugs and love in return. Thank you for reading my blog and sending such lovely, positive comments. Affectionate greetings and best wishes from us all xxx 😘

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karen thanks to you. My comments come from my heart and are the result of everything you have been telling in your blogs about J for a long time: I have followed you for a long time and you gave me your friendship, time passes very quickly. Reading your blogs is reading the wonderful writings of a friend. I send you all my love, my support and my best wishes to all of you. Hugs. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita xxx 😘🙏🌻

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  4. You write so beautifully about your dear friend, J. Dementia is a cruel disease. I’m so sorry you are going through it together. Your vases are a treasure, to J and to your readers. I’m glad she is COVID-free, and I hope she remains that way. Gentle arms around you. Alys

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Alys. I must admit I had no experience of dementia until J was diagnosed. It was always something that happened to other people. Over the past few years it’s been so heartbreaking watching someone you love ‘disappear’ along with all the shared memories of our children and families. The only thing I’ve been able to fight this disease with is flowers. Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

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      • My mother suffered dementia in her declining years. Towards the end she thought I was her mother. She died from natural causes at 89. I think Alzheimers is worse then dementia in some ways because it drags on and on, robbing us of our loved one and robbing them of a productive life.

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  5. The flowers are exemplary! However, I could NOT read through that. I have not participated with ‘In A Vase On Monday’ more than a few times. The last time that I did so, last spring, it was my first Mothers’ Day without my mother. I featured a few of my mother’s roses in one of my mother’s Waterford vases. I dug and canned the roses last winter, for eventual relocation to my garden, perhaps this winter. They live here for now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. She really loves them, and it gives us something to talk about that’s cheerful and happy and we can both agree on. Thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment. It’s much appreciated.

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