Gardening angel

Ms Fung started growing plants since she was a secondary student, and she finds gardening a way ¡§to coexist with nature¡¨.

¡§Why do we need air-conditioning? To sit under a tree can be more comfortable. There are worms and ants in nature. People should get close to nature and I would say that I am a part of the earth,¡¨ she said.

Ms Fung tried to plant tulips and set up a rose garden around her house after she migrated to Canada in 1994. Failing to do both, she read professional gardening books to make herself an expert. But she was a social worker at the time and knew little about horticultural therapy.

But it was through her social work job that she discovered about the therapeutic power of gardening ¡V she worked in an elderly care centre after returning from Canada in 1998 and was assigned to conduct some gardening activities for the elderly people, including some Alzheimer¡¦s patients.

Ms Fung asked the elderly people to do some simple gardening tasks like watering plants and growing green onions and tomatoes. She eventually found that the elderly people had become increasing involved in gardening and were able to concentrate on their job for a longer period of time.

¡§If you ask them (the Alzheimer¡¦s patients) to do something, they can usually only do it for five to ten minutes before they become tired and want to sleep or do other work. However, if you bring them to the garden, they can water the plants or do the transplanting job for 15 to 20 minutes and even up to half an hour sometimes,¡¨ Ms Fung said.

The unexpected achievement has prompted her to find information about the therapeutic effects of gardening and that marked the beginning of her career path in horticulture therapy.

The elderly organisation later sponsored Ms Fung to pursue her studies in Canada through courses provided by the American Horticultural Therapy Association, the only US organisation concerned with the promotion and development of horticultural therapy. In the courses, she learned relevant professional knowledge and skills like gardening and psychology. After passing the registration requirement of the association, Ms Fung returned to Hong Kong in 2004 as a registered horticultural therapist.

The Hong Kong Horticultural Centre that Ms Fung later set up conducts different training courses on ways to improve physical and mental heath through horticulture. It also sells special gardening tools designed for elderly people and those who have physical disabilities.

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Connie Fung Yuen-yee recently helped an elderly community arrange a gardening activity, which attracted people of different ages.