Growing tomatoes with people living with dementia in care homes

A home-schooling project to grow tomatoes during coronavirus lockdown became a fulfilling gardening activity for people with dementia living in residential care homes.

Harvey Jones helped his daughter and her friends to plant tomato plant seeds during the pandemic. After donating the tomato plants to local care homes, Harvey explains how the residents took a keen interest in this gardening project.

Planting the seeds

Growing tomato plants began as something for my daughter to do as a home-schooling activity during the coronavirus lockdown.  

There was a point when all the tomato seeds we had planted had rooted in their egg holders. We realised we would have nearly 250 plants! We started thinking about what to do with them all.

The logical thing to do was to have a street sale. For every plant sold, one plant would be donated to an elderly resident in local care homes. 

The idea to give to residents in care homes followed naturally. We all knew how cooped up care home residents were feeling.

Of course for them, the pandemic meant months with no visitors and very little opportunity to move at all. 

An opportunity for young entrepreneurs to help others

My daughter, Azaria, designed a brilliant leaflet on her phone within thirty minutes to be shared with the community. 

She and her friends Ella, Ciara and Isla, were excited to do something generous for people who had been so isolated by the pandemic. 

The children wanted to help brighten other people's summer.

Two young girls with lots of tomato plants and a colourful poster

The children were enthusiastic to promote this venture and give tomato plants to local care homes.

We were also delighted that our local celebrity neighbour and broadcaster, Nicki Chapman, helped to support this endeavour.

We held a sale and sold one hundred plants to our streets within days. 

After paying our expenses of the materials (all the pots, canes and hoses that we’d bought) we had £400 left to give to the Hounslow Food Box. 

We donated approximately 95 tomato plants to five care homes.

I didn't expect how much of an impact these would have within specialised dementia units. Care home staff and residents were able to get together for a few minutes every day and do an activity that was different and interesting.

A project rooted in fun

One resident of a care home named Deepak took a keen interest in the tomato plants. 

Deepak at the care home labelling and caring for his tomato plants

Deepak was a passionate gardener before moving into the care home and enjoyed tending to the plants.

The staff said Deepak used to enjoy gardening when he was at home and was happy to have a pot for himself. 

Deepak would come out almost every day just to see how his tomatoes were doing, when previously he didn’t.

Deepak even began researching how to take care of tomato plants. He tried different things, like moving his pot into the shade and regularly checking the soil. He would even replant the plants if he thought the soil wasn’t good enough.

Deepak was also keen to meet the care home’s gardeners to see what they thought about his plants. Sadly, due to the risk at that time of the pandemic, they could not come into the home.

The care home said Deepak’s love for taking care of the tomatoes never stopped till winter.

Sowing future seeds

Following the project’s success, we are now hoping to help match up care homes with local primary schools.

Primary schools receive funding to run gardens for their pupils. Our ‘Organic Tomato Plant Project’ aims to link the primary school curriculum with elderly care needs.

Regina at Vicarage Farm care home being handed a tomato plant alongside another picture of her at a school assembly

Regina is a care home manager and was keen to collaborate on this community outreach project with local schools, like Belmont Primary School. 

We hope to roll-out this growing-to-give activity across West London. If any care homes are interested in learning more, please send an email to Harvey Jones at [email protected]

You can follow The Organic Tomato Plant project on Instagram at @organictomatoplant.

With special thanks to Vicarage Farm and the people affected by dementia for granting permission to share the images and information from the care home.

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So lovely to read about how this grew from a few seeds!

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