May 3, 2014
When people first hear about Acres of Love, many envision a stale, institutionalized environment, where children are struggling to survive. We try to help people get a vision for what our children truly experience- a family, a home, and hope. At Acres of Love, we strive to give each child everything we would give our own. This goes above and beyond the basic necessities, and includes things such as peaceful and safe gardens in which to play, explore, and learn. As we have expanded our mission by opening more Forever Homes, we have found that being good neighbors is an important part of inviting others into our work. Next-door neighbors of our Forever Homes have become active, long-term volunteers, adoptive families, and even Acres of Love team members. We are able to encourage these relationships by taking steps to maintain our homes and gardens in such a way that makes us valuable members in our immediate communities. We have a talented and dedicated Garden Team that cares for each garden, teaches our children about planting and harvesting, and adds one more layer of support to our Forever Families. Here are some thoughts from Joey, who helps lead our Garden Team:
Gardens play an important role in the development of children. By nature they are curious and like to learn by sensory experience. Gardens provide children with a chance to smell the perfumes of nature, touch the delicate leaves and petals of plants, see the amazing designs and colors of flowers, taste fruit and vegetables, and hear the sound of birds and insects, and leaves fluttering in the breeze. A garden is a subtle way to teach a child environmental awareness as they explore the world of nature. What child does not like to climb trees or play in the dirt? They are exposed to the changing seasons and learn about the cycle of life as seeds germinate and sprout, produce flowers and, after they wither, they create a whole new crop of seeds which will generate a hundred fold more plants in the new season. Acres of Love has always placed significant emphasis on the development and maintenance of gardens at each of their houses. I became involved at the very first house that opened its doors to abandoned and orphaned children in Bryanston. My daughters and I worked as volunteers, assisting house parents by playing with the children, bathing and feeding them and giving them a taste of love they so readily craved.
I work as a landscaper and Gerda soon asked me to help with the development and maintenance of the garden of that first Forever Home so that the children could enjoy a peaceful garden. Acres began to grow, and with each Forever Home that opened, I became more involved. Currently, I oversee the care and maintenance for fourteen Acres of Love gardens in the Randburg/ Johannesburg area. To maintain the gardens and keep them looking beautiful throughout the year requires a lot of hard work. Fortunately there are hands to help me. Each house has a gardener at least once a week to perform the physical tasks necessary to keep the gardens attractive and productive. Four gardeners are employed by Acres for this purpose, and each garden has dedicated helper who is responsible for results achieved. Shade trees were introduced where necessary and existing trees and conifers thinned out or removed to ensure an adequate mix of sunny and shaded areas for the children. All gardens have an informal theme with an emphasis on water-wise plants, color and mixed foliage, providing a range of textures and color splashes as the seasons change, which the children love. Irrigation systems have been installed to help house parents keep the garden moist and alive and we have introduced herbs and medicinal plants, such as Barbanella – which the older children have learned to use to ease insect bites and stings and is also good for fever blisters and for dry and cracked lips. And, of course, the vegetable gardens are a favorite and are mostly stocked with spinach, beetroot, onions, mielies, carrots and beans, all of which are favored by the house parents. The sowing of vegetables is limited to that which is consumed by each household.
Gardens are maintained according to the four seasons and plants are replaced with spring, summer, autumn or winter plants, depending on the time of the year. In autumn, watering systems are reset to limit water usage, old summer perennials are removed, roses are fed and lightly pruned, and dead branches are cut. Plants are propagated from cuttings and seeds like sweet peas and nasturtiums are planted. Winter vegetables are also planted. Water-wise and organic principles are applied in the Acres’ gardens. Plants with the same water requirements are grouped together and water thirsty plants are avoided. We mainly use indigenous plants that are acclimatized to local conditions. Going organic by limiting chemicals is a natural progression and each garden has its own compost heap fed by fallen leaves and cuttings.
The children love their gardens and get involved by planting their own seeds and watching them grow. They ask questions about what I am doing and why I am doing it and it has been gratifying to receive a number of letters and hand drawn, colored-in pictures from the children thanking me for their gardens. I am truly blessed to be a part of the Acres of Love journey of bringing light into the lives of the children who have crossed our thresholds.