Vanessa’s story: nurse first, gardener for life
Queen’s Nurse Vanessa Hurley grew up helping a sister with Down’s Syndrome during a time when there was much stigma and discrimination towards people with a learning disability. It was this experience that steered her towards training as a learning disability nurse in 1981 and led her to a distinguished nursing career that included gardening as part of patient wellbeing.
“My whole career has been dedicated to ensuring people with a learning disability are given the same rights, independence, choice, opportunities and have equal access to health care,” says Vanessa. “I regularly give advice regarding the impact that environments have on individual’s health and wellbeing, including gardens which can play an enormous part in a person’s recovery, assisting in reducing anxiety and distress.”
Vanessa took early retirement in 2016 and became self-employed giving her the opportunity to support people in their own homes and enabling individuals to have an affordable, personalized service. Gardening remains an important part of her role.
“The majority of people I support have had to shield during the pandemic and for some I be the only person they see in the week. My job role includes gardening and has been particularly important during this difficult time. I have been able to spend time with people who are shielding helping to create their gardens and for some, helping to grow their own produce.”
Vanessa’s work is at times both difficult and stressful so her own garden is her haven and her therapy. “When I get home the garden plays an important part in my wellbeing. I am in the garden nearly every day whatever the weather.”
Like so many, Vanessa adores spending time outside enjoying the evolving seasons and making changes to her garden.
“My husband and I have created different spaces throughout the garden which capture the sun at different times of the day. I take photographs to share with the people I support and grow cuttings of the plants they like to have in their garden. I get very excited when I’m working outside and I forget about time. My husband has often come out to find me working in the dark!”
Vanessa’s home – The Old School House – is part of the Ashcombe Estate and can be seen from a very pretty bridge on the road. Lots of people pass by on foot, cycling and driving and it has become a popular stop off point for people who admire the garden, take photographs and chat.
“We have different themes at the front of the house throughout the year which has proved to be really popular with passing visitors and has been helpful during this difficult year. I love the fact that our garden gives other people pleasure and out of lockdown the people I support have visited and enjoyed exploring and sitting in the garden.
“I only wish I had more time to spend in my garden as it is high maintenance but there is nothing that I dislike doing.”
As a Queen’s Nurse Vanessa is very aware of the fantastic work that the National Garden Scheme does for its beneficiaries, including the Queen’s Nursing Institute and wanted to contribute. 2020 would have been the first year of opening her garden with the Scheme but the pandemic got in the way.
“My husband and I are very excited to be opening this year if circumstances allow,” says Vanessa. “We are lucky to have two Queen’s Nurses living in our village and we plan to have some of our wonderful Queen’s Nurses helping at the garden opening each year.”
Vanessa’s story is published as part of our 2021 Gardens & Health Week – for more click here