Geoff Robards

Geoff Robards

Backyard blooms thanks to generous donor

$45,000 given anonymously to Saanich-based home for people with cognitive disabilities

At their weekly meetings, residents of Harriet House usually gave Geoff Robards a hard time about the backyard.

The lawn was lumpy and uneven and paths too narrow for wheelchairs. For a home with 15 residents, all with cognitive impairments and mobility challenges, the outdoor space was deceivingly treacherous.

At best, Robards, the care team leader and an RN, hoped to fund improvements incrementally over a few years.

“I was routinely pilloried about the backyard. I said ‘yes, we hope to raise the money,’” he said. “Then I got to come over one day and said: ‘actually, we have the money, and it’s going to happen.’ ‘When?’ they asked. ‘Monday.’”

Last May an anonymous donor handed over $45,000 through the Victoria Foundation to renovate the yard and garden to make it accessible and useful, and insisted the work be completed in time for the residents to enjoy during the summer.

The donor, a woman in Victoria, who read about it in a newsletter from Broadmead Care, which manages Harriet House and its sister Nigel House, both in Saanich and collectively called the Nigel Program for Adults with Disabilities.

“She thought everyone should have a garden and be able to use it,” said Kathy Baan, the director of development for Broadmead Care. “We fast-tracked the garden reno. It’s an amazing transformation.”

“We get anonymous donations occasionally, but not in that quantity and in that time period,” Robards said. “There are lots of little things we’d like to have, and we plan for the distant future or a bit at a time. I wasn’t prepared that it would happen in … six weeks.”

The yard was dug up and the project was completed over June and July. Cedar pergolas frame an ornamental garden and picnic tables, in a yard split by large concrete patio and a levelled lawn. Waist-high planters give residents relatively easy access to regular horticulture therapy and gardening.

“I like this one better. I like the seating and the garden and the fountain. It’s set up like a Starbucks outside with umbrellas and tables,” observed resident Suzanne Bristow, who has been part of the Nigel program for 20 years. “I come here and have coffee. It’s peaceful and quiet.”

Robards said it’s hard to overstate how the space will enhance the lives of residents of Harriet House, which is funded through the Vancouver Island Health Authority and B.C. Housing.

For people with memory and other neurological problems, large outings to places like Beacon Hill Park can be impractical, Robards said.

“The likelihood of having a safe place to congregate is remote. This fills that role for them,” he said. “This place is like an outdoor dining room and rec room. It’s a great place for residents to have a picnic or lunch together … this adds to their lives, and it would have been impossible without the generosity of the donor.”