March 21st 2021

Written by Jan Richards

The Bloomhill gardens are the pride and joy of Vanessa and Richard Harvey. Every Tuesday morning, whatever the weather, Richard, Vanessa and their team spend several hours maintaining the gardens that help make Bloomhill the haven it is - the tranquil place where clients can find respite and refuge among the green surrounds, caring staff and volunteers.

On this hot humid morning the gardeners are drenched with sweat, but they’re still smiling, still pushing wheel barrows, pruning and mulching - water bottles at the ready.

Vanessa is the Supervising Gardener, and she says although her team is “a bit short on men” with just husband Richard, Brian and Joe who is currently in Tassie, “We have a good group of ladies”. “They know what has to be done and start as soon as they arrive start putting out sprinklers if necessary.”

The gardeners usually work on one or two gardens at a time, maintaining them and “reinventing them” every couple of years.

Often, Richard says, the gardeners also contribute plants to Bloomhill's gardens. “They’re a great bunch of gardeners, they all take pride in what they do. Someone will come up with an idea to plant something and go and buy it out of their own pocket.”

They start early and work until tea break at 9.30 when they sit in the café and chat. Vanessa says, “Chris keeps us ‘tails’”, the ends cut from yummy slices made in the kitchen. “Someone might make something and bring it along. A few of them are hooked on the sausage rolls”.

After morning tea, it’s time for finishing up, tidying up and putting away equipment.

But the gardeners input doesn’t stop there, they have come up with some creative ways of raising funds as well. Lately it’s been from selling ginger from plants grown in the new planter boxes. The stems are trimmed, washed, weighed, packaged and sold in the café.

And there’s the potted plant table – usually plants from the gardeners’ home gardens they pot for sale. When Vanessa visits her mother, still an avid gardener, she returns with bromeliads she pots. She looks at the plant sale table and says, “It looks a bit bare, I’ll have to go and get some,” there’s always a supply kept on hand.

And Vanessa knows how much the plant sales contribute to Bloomhill each month – it’s $200-$300. She has a printout because she wants to show her team, “the gardeners like to know they’re making a difference”.

And that’s why they’re gardening at Bloomhill. They know that these gardens they tend and love, and the funds they raise, are all part of the bigger picture that is Bloomhill Cancer Care.

“We know the money we raise is helping someone”. She says, “It’s nice to see the ladies in the café chatting after yoga. We know where the money is going”.

Some of Vanessa’s gardening team have other jobs with Bloomhill - it’s a common theme. One gardener arrives early to get her shift done before she has another shift in an Op Shop. Others work in Op Shops on other days of the week.

Vanessa and Richard both have other work they do with Bloomhill - and that’s as well as their efforts with Faye Burke at sausage sizzles, fairs and on many other occasions where food is needed.

Aside from the gardening, Richard also helps with fitting out the Op Shops and recently worked on fitting out the new DC.

Vanessa makes Christmas decorations, earrings, covered coat hangers and tea towels. “For 20 years I’ve been making them for family.” Now she’s making them for the Bloomhill family and spends all year working on them and then gives them to Bloomhill to sell.

“I do something different each year. I’m experimenting with knitting plum puddings entwined with beads for Christmas this year.”

Each Christmas Vanessa and Richard make a small tree from a fallen golden cane palm frond found in the Bloomhill garden - Richard spray paints it white and puts it on a stand. The handmade decorations, earrings, tea towels with holders and covered coat hangers are available in the café with all proceeds going to Bloomhill.

Vanessa says much of the yarn she uses is donated by friends and people she works with in the gardens. “Mom’s sister passed away and her daughter gave me all her yarns.”

These yarns will all be worked into original handcrafted pieces to be sold with funds going to Bloomhill - a circle of giving and caring and community.

As for outside interests, Vanessa heads to aqua aerobics once a week, and, as expected, there’s a link with Bloomhill. At Christmas she brings her group to the café for morning tea and so they can buy her Christmas decorations, and thus donate to Bloomhill.

Vanessa and Richard heard about Bloomhill through Volunteering Sunshine Coast. Richard joined in the garden and Vanessa initially went to an Endeavour Op Shop, but decided she’d rather be in the garden so she joined Richard.

She said when they joined Bloomhill neither had been touched by cancer although since starting both her brother and mother have had cancer.

They are both aware of the impact their efforts have on Bloomhill clients. “People come up to us in the garden and say ‘you do a really good job’. We know we are appreciated, some people ask about plants.

“We do it because we love it.”