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It’s in their nature: How a team of volunteer gardeners keeps Bethell Hospice beautiful

November 24, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Zachary Roman

It’s hard work to maintain a beautiful garden.

Inglewood’s Bethell Hospice has one of the finest gardens around, and it’s all thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers and a landscape committee.

The Bethell Hospice property is about 3.5 acres in size, with gardens surrounding the hospice itself. Each of the hospice’s 10 rooms has a view of, and opens to, the garden space. 

Susanne McRoberts, co-chair of Bethell Hospice’s landscape committee, explained the gardens are really a part of the rooms.

“They’re part of the accommodation, part of the care. It’s therapeutic, it’s not just a garden for show,” said McRoberts.

Kat Powell, volunteer program lead at Bethell Hospice, added that the gardens bring life to the hospice by attracting animals like birds and butterflies. She said many residents of the hospice love bird watching, and that bird feeders are installed to enhance this activity.

McRoberts said often when she opens the gate to enter the garden space at Bethell, she’ll feel a whoosh of birds as they all fly up out of the gardens.

“It’s a buffet for them,” she said. 

A big reason why the Bethell Hospice gardens are wonderful for birds and butterflies is the fact that most plants in the gardens are native to the area, with a few non-native plants added that are “bulletproof” and look good with the others. McRoberts said the gardens are designed so that there’s a succession of colour through the seasons so there’s always something to look at.

“Using (native plants) and also this concept of naturalistic garden design, which is more natural and relaxed… it fits with the rural setting here,” said McRoberts. “This used to be an apple orchard surrounded by farmland, so we didn’t want a fussy (garden).”

Bethell Hospice’s landscape committee consists of eight volunteers, and together they oversee the design of the gardens. Then, there’s a large team of 29 volunteers who maintain the gardens.

“Quite a number of us are gardeners, we have this passion… it’s sort of an obsession with us,” said McRoberts. “We drew up a detailed plan of what would be planted in each section, when it would bloom, how tall it would be, [and] how it relates with the other plants that are going to be around it.”

The plan in question was created in 2018, when the landscape committee decided it was time to redo the gardens to improve soil quality and get rid of weeds that were becoming too difficult to manage.

Once the plan was drawn up, the garden refresh was done in “blitzes” with weekends where many volunteers would come all at once to complete parts of the master garden plan. Then, in 2020, the pandemic hit. Having large groups of people come to work on the gardens at once was no longer an option.

“We had to completely regroup and re-vision how we could do it,” said McRoberts. “It was a really critical time for the garden because we had just put it in… if you leave it and let it go, then it’s going to get populated with weeds in between those little plants that you’ve (just) planted.”

She added it was also a critical time for Bethell Hospice residents who were uplifted by the garden, as with the pandemic came increased restrictions on visitors at the hospice. There were also restrictions implemented on the age of who could volunteer during the pandemic’s height, as higher-risk populations like seniors needed to be kept safe.

“We recruited a whole new team of volunteers and managed the situation,” said McRoberts. “A whole new 29 volunteers who were willing to step in and keep it going.”

Before the pandemic, there wasn’t a regular team of landscape volunteers. There was just the landscape committee, and groups of people that would come in for the “blitz” garden work days, such as corporate groups.

Powell and McRoberts said a silver lining of the pandemic is the fact that a dedicated landscape team was created that’s still working to this day.

During the pandemic, a schedule was created so the new volunteers could come in at a time where they wouldn’t have to come in close contact with others, and they always knew what they had to do because of the guidance of the landscape committee.

McRoberts said for her and many garden volunteers, working the Bethell gardens is a reciprocal relationship. She said there’s so much she gets out of working in the gardens, for example the calming and restorative effects of being in nature.

Powell and McRoberts said they wanted to extend their sincerest thanks and appreciation to all those involved in keeping Bethell Hospice’s gardens so beautiful.

While the team of garden volunteers is fairly full right now, Powell said there’s many opportunities for volunteering at Bethell hospice and those interested can reach out to her at



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