“Volunteering as a gardener holds a special place in my heart”

Categories: Care and Community Engagement.
Volunteer gardener Chris Penfold

Volunteers at St Clare Hospice in Essex help the charity for a number of reasons, but many do it because they’ve had a connection with the hospice and know first-hand the difference that expert, compassionate care can make to individuals at one of the most difficult times in their life. Chris Penfold, 73, shares the story of why he began volunteering after the death of his wife, Carol.

“It all started when I was coming to the hospice for bereavement support after Carol died. I just started chatting with some of the people here, and we would always mention how wonderful the gardens are. I found out that I could come and volunteer in the gardens, which instantly appealed to me, as I knew what a difference the gardens had made to Carol and I when she was visiting St Clare. I knew I wanted to give something back, as St Clare had played such a big part in both of our lives.

Chris had first visited St Clare Hospice when his wife was attending Day Therapy. “Carol had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and cancer, but with the support of St Clare, life was just that little bit easier.

“Carol loved walking through the gardens at St Clare when we were on our way to the Day Therapy groups. Sometimes, it would take us 10 minutes before we got into reception because she would be looking at all the lovely plants and flowers! Gardening was Carol’s passion – she had ‘green-fingers’! She always kept our garden at home looking wonderful, and I will always keep it that way for as long as I can.

“Since Carol sadly passed away, about three and a half years ago now. I have taken on her passion as my way of remembering and honouring her – whilst also giving back to the hospice charity that supported our family so much, through what was such a difficult time.”

Chris met with St Clare’s Facilities Manager, who showed him round the grounds and introduced him to the other volunteer gardeners. “They were all on a tea break together, so I was quite nervous to meet them all at once! Yet, now when I look back, I realise it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

“I started out helping the other gardeners, maintaining the plants and putting in new flowers and shrubs. It was so easy to just start chatting to each other. Now, these wonderful people are my very good friends!

“We go out for walks together every week, sometimes going on trips together outside of St Clare. We often also help each other out, be it a leak in someone’s loft or a broken fence! We’re all here for each other. This place just brings out the goodness in people.

“Volunteering at St Clare in the gardens is more than just a hobby – it’s something in your heart that just means so much. I always help out in any way that I can, whether it’s supporting the facilities team with building-work, or marshalling at fundraising events. Even my sons have taken on challenges to raise money for St Clare, including cycle rides and walks, in memory of their mum.

“My volunteering as a gardener holds a special place in my heart because of what it meant to Carol. Gardening is all about nurturing, growth and life, and I feel good knowing that I am making a difference to others. It is my way of honouring Carol’s legacy.”

Now that spring is finally in full flow, St Clare Hospice is looking for new volunteer gardeners to help spruce up its gardens.

Rob Wallace, Volunteer Manager at St Clare Hospice, said:

“Our peaceful grounds make such a difference to those who visit and stay in our hospice. We want anyone with a little time to spare and a bit of horticultural interest to share their love of gardening this spring and become a volunteer gardener with St Clare.”

The volunteer gardeners have also shared their top five gardening tips:

  • Weed as much as possible, but if you’re not sure then leave it in to grow a bit more.
  • Add compost to the ground, once you have weeded. Essex clay needs lots of it and the best time to work the soil is late spring and mid-autumn (when the ground is soft).
  • Plant new shrubs and trees; dig-up, divide and re-plant existing plants; dig up and move plants like sedge
  • Cut back – plants like dogwood and buddleia are great to cut back in the spring
  • Clean out your greenhouse

For more information visit St Clare Hospice