Five older folk sit huddled around a patio table on a sunny Thursday morning. From the outside, they look like any group of keen gardeners.
Horticultural therapist Cath Manuel is using gardening to enrich the lives of patients living with dementia on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
Once a week she leads a group of up to six patients and two volunteers to plant seedlings or tend to a sensory garden at Carramar aged care facility at Tewantin.
"If they've gardened a lot in the past, we give them pots and tools and they know exactly what to do," Ms. Manuel said.
Ms. Manuel said having a carer to patient ratio of 3:2 ensured the gardeners were not overwhelmed, stayed on task, and had a tangible item at the end of the session.
Volunteer Denise said gardening offered more than just therapeutic benefits.
"There's a social element too if people want that to happen, but there's also the ability to sit quietly and work on something," she said.
Allira, who has been a volunteer with Ms. Manuel since the program started two years ago, said the benefits were twofold.
"I just love being here with all these residents and helping them out ... I just love it to bits," she said.
"I can see them really just enjoying being in the moment of digging in the dirt. We could stand there for five minutes and just dig," she said.
"I can see the change in them in their face, their smiles, and if there's a bird we'll stop and look at the birds or listen to the birds, or a plane will fly over so we'll talk about that.
"It creates opportunities then for other conversations, and I can really see the physical change in them.
"That's where I think that gardening is so beneficial. It's that connecting with nature."
Step-by-step the key to reducing stress
Scooping potting mix into a pot and preparing the hole for a seedling might be a relatively easy task for some, but for dementia patients, it can be confusing and overwhelming.
Ms. Manuel said a step-by-step visual instruction card helped to mitigate any stress and was a handy reference tool for the gardeners.
The activity is carefully planned and strategic.
"Once all the pots are filled [with potting mix], we'll clean up the potting mix and then bring out the flowers, so that just helps to stop any confusion around any of the activities we're doing," Ms Manuel said.
Increasing demand for therapy benefits
A horticulturalist of more than 17 years, Ms. Manuel said seeing the benefits gardening had in her own life had led her to explore the role it could play in helping others, specifically dementia patients.
She completed an online course in Australia and pursued further professional development in the United Kingdom at the horticultural therapy organization, Thrive.
Ms. Manuel said the potential for how horticultural therapy could be used in the community was exciting.
"Gardening for dementia patients is a new, but a growing area because the number of memory support units is on the increase," she said.
Ms. Manuel said the scope for horticultural therapy in the community was exciting, with potential vocational, social and therapeutic, and rehabilitation benefits.