Healthy people and planet: Debbie gives the green thumbs up to Bupa

22 March 2017
Bupa Abbotsleigh Mews Gardener

Debbie Ruggins is a gardener at the Bupa Abbotsleigh Mews care home in Sidcup. We’re proud that Debbie has been chosen alongside 20 women from across the UK to front the Business in the Community’s campaign, Same but Different.  It is a celebration of the different lives that ordinary women lead, and mark their inspirational work.

Debbie’s passion for gardening began 33 years ago when she joined an apprenticeship for the central royal parks in London, aged just 16. She worked on many spaces including, St James’ Park, Buckingham Palace gardens, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. At the end of her apprenticeship she moved up to a Grade One gardener, and then eventually became the Charge Hand for Hyde Park Corner, with a team of eight to ten gardeners.

At the age of 24, Debbie started a family and it wasn’t until 20 years later that she returned to work as a gardener.

Debbie said: “I was creating the perfect little family and I had an amazing home, but I thought that there was more I could do! In the end, you just think, ‘I need some money and I need a life again.’ So that’s what started me looking.”

Returning to the world of work, Debbie is now a gardener at Bupa Abbotsleigh Mews in Sidcup.  She now looks after the dementia garden which is a great place where residents can get outdoors and enjoy the garden, but it is also a place that sparks memories of when they were younger.

Debbie has spent a lot of time researching and developing the garden space. She wanted to include plants with pastel colours such as pink, white and blue to create a calming environment. Attention to detail is crucial for people living with dementia and adding a pathway in the figure of an eight so the residents know how to come out of the garden and how to go back into their home.  Debbie even put in some silver cross prams that the residents can push around, and games such as Jenga, skittles, bowls and croquet if they want to play.

She added: “The garden helps residents walk more than they used to which is fantastic for their physical and mental wellbeing. The garden is also used by their families when they visit so they can all sit out with a cup of tea, read a paper, or do a crossword. You can have your own little space outside.”

“We started a little gardening club where I bring the compost in and we plant bulbs, or sunflower seeds. It doesn’t always go to plan and they get covered in compost or some fall asleep, but that really doesn’t matter because they’ve tried.  Sometimes they plant them upside down so I quickly turn them up when they’re not looking!”

Debbie has won gold medals in the London Garden Society Awards and the Bexley in Bloom Awards.

“I have the best job here in the world because I love what I’m doing. I’m a strong woman who believes I can do the same job as a man. My advice to other women is to find a job you’re passionate about and go for it.”

The portraits from Same but Different can be visited the online exhibition:

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