The Pauchard family has been in the plant business for four generations and about 100 years, first running a nursery before adding landscaping and now therapeutic gardens to their activities. Philippe Pauchard and his brother run this family operation with 20 employees located near Nancy in Eastern France. About three years ago, they started receiving calls from retirement homes asking them to create gardens for their Alzheimer patients as well as intergenerational gardens. « We wanted to do this right. So we asked Guillaume Berthier, a fellow landscape gardener, to do a study on what was out there. We found tons of information especially out of the United States and realized both that France had fallen behind and that there was a great potential, » explains Philippe Pauchard. His company has now designed three such gardens and has more projects in the works. In addition, the two brothers and two partners started a franchise to disseminate their methods in the rest of France. Terramie, the name of their new project launched earlier this year, cleverly mixes the French words for earth and friend (terre and amie).
Pauchard does not want to create cookie-cutter therapeutic gardens or rather gardens with a therapeutic goal as some French practioners, including the Pauchards, like to call them (jardins à visée thérapeutique). « There is a relationship between the garden, the residents and the team, both the medical team and the maintenance team. We bring the tools and the method and we train the caregivers. Otherwise, the project won’t last. » A man with a passion for plants and a personal experience with aging relatives, he adds that « we got into this because we know we can bring well-being to people. When you help a 85-year old get their hand in the dirt, you feel all chocked up. »
Two retirement homes with gardens
A few months ago, Pauchard took me on a visit of two of the gardens his compagny created. The first one is set up in a private retirement home for 130 residents in the heart of the city of Nancy. The garden was actually created within a locked down unit hosting 11 residents and three day participants. The original garden proved inappropriate with its toxic plants, unwelcoming alleys and plastic boards. So the Pauchards were called to the rescue. « In order for residents to make the garden their own, they had to be able to walk around safely and to have planter boxes at the right height so they don’t have to bend over, » he says. As one example, he covered the alley ways with a natural material that is both permeable and anti-slippery, a crushed granite whose color is familiar to the residents instead of black because that color represents emptiness and scares them.
In the planter boxes, the residents helped by the recreational staff chose to plant cherry tomatoes, celery, herbs and pumpkins they made into soup during a cooking workshop. « They come for five minutes or an hour according to their mood and the weather. If they don’t feel like it, they don’t participate. » A terrace with tables and sunshades is a nice spot for family visits. Farther into the garden, espalier apple and pear trees make the most of the space. With a budget of about $35,000 and a month and a half of work last spring (the residents were watching intently), the locked down unit at Saint-Remy now has a garden the residents consider their own like this Alsatian man who missed his flower garden and appreciates his new urban garden. It has brought attention and life to the unit as other residents come and enjoy the garden. « An adapted, secure and pleasant garden encouraging touching and remembering and bringing beauty is a great satisfaction. If I could do it again, I would make it bigger », says Patrick Messein, the home director.
My tour ends at another retirement home in Bayon on the outskirts of the city where Pauchard’s team created an intergenerational garden. School children are growing their own plot of land located in the middle of a park surrounding the retirement home. Perennials, roses, herbs and vegetables mix in the garden the same way children and elderly residents rub shoulders in the park. In the same park, the Pauchard created a garden for a special unit of the retirement home where occupational therapists and physical therapists work individually with residents on tactile sensations or walking.
Terramie plans to bring therapeutic gardens to the rest of France
The company does not skimp on internal training. For this new type of gardens, Pauchard plans to select staffers with a special sensibility. « But they will also receive training to make them aware of issues and help them work with respect for individuals. They will also need to be aware that on Alzheimer units, life expectancy is four or five years, » he say. « Our concern in the development of this type of gardens where the word therapy is used loosely is that there won’t be any respect for the person and for ethics. » With each now project, he starts from the expectations of the team, the pathologies of the residents, the environment and the budget. « We bring our expertise and we design a project which the institution then uses to look for grants if they do not have a budget for it. » The thorny issue of financing leads straight to one of Pauchard’s hope: to be able to mesure the benefits of the garden to prove its usefulness. He is working with an occupational therapist to develop questionnaires for both residents and staff to measure the impact of the activity on their well-being.
For now, the goal of Terramie is to bring the philosophy and the methods developed in Nancy to other regions of France and other types of patients. Since the beginning of the year, three franchisees have been trained, one in the Lorraine area, one in Burgundy and one in the central city of Limoges.