Fighting loneliness with Rootless Garden

An interview with Rootless Garden

Let me introduce you guys to yet another new column on this blog. I’m going to be interviewing young social entrepreneurs in their 20s. They had an awesome idea to change the world and actually made it work! First up: Indie from Rootless Garden, an awesome initiative for older people.

What was your vision behind founding Rootless Garden?

Our vision is that no older person suffers from being lonely.

My business partner and I started Rootless Garden because of our experience of working in elderly care. We found that many older people were lonely. But, we also found was that those who were a part of a friendship group, a club, or a part of something were happiest. What struck us the most however, was that older people who had regular contact with the outside world, plants, flowers, even indoor plants were so much happier and healthier than those who didn’t.

We started to investigate, and it turns out that there is an entire school of thought based around nature therapy and the wonderful effects that being in contact with nature can have on a person – young and old alike. Nature is so present, but we ignore it, and like loneliness it affects us all beyond what we consciously recognize.

So we thought, why not use nature to fight loneliness amongst older people. And there we have it, Rootless Garden.

An interview with Rootless Garden An interview with Rootless Garden

Can you remember the first day of Rootless Garden?

I don’t think there ever way a first day…we didn’t ever sit down and establish ourselves with a today is the day talk. It just sort of happened. It started with our experience in elderly care, our ideas, the stories we’d heard and the fun we’d had and then before we knew we were applying for grants, taking on contracts and really becoming Rootless Garden.

The first day of Rootless Garden that I can remember, however, it rocking up at a residential care home in Essex. Naturally, 15 minutes late, in the back of a black cab that got lost, loaded with all sorts of plants, bags of soil, sachets of teas, gloves, trowels and spades. We were so nervous, we thought it would be a disaster, and that would be the end. We were wheeling around a trolley full of plants in the care home and getting some pretty funny looks from people.

At first there wasn’t much interaction beyond laughter, but when we started setting up our activity it was great. We transformed a room that a resident was staying in by bringing in herbs and plants and making his room like a garden – he loved it! It was such a great feeling to realise that what you envisioned, your idea, your concept works!

How did people react at first, when you told them you wanted to start Rootless Garden?

At first people kind of looked at us like we were mad – mainly because the name doesn’t give much indication of what we do – gardeners? Landscapers? Florists? Nope. We work with older people. But once we explained it, and people got it, they loved it! People are always so impressed with the beautiful simplicity of our concept, and how we’ve managed to encapsulate the essence of nature to combat loneliness for older people. And then we explain our activities and the creative part…most people pause when we tell them about our botanical tea and cocktail making…and that’s when they want to sign up and volunteer with us!

When was the moment you thought ‘yes we are actually making a difference’?

We have a lady called Jane (I’ve changed her name for this) who was one of the first ever members at our W4 Social Club in Chiswick. She has been a member of the club for over a year now and we’ve seen such a huge difference in the way she is. At the start she was very withdrawn, and sometimes quite aggressive and rude. But she continued to come to the club, week after week. And over time we’ve noticed so many changes in her. Where she used to sit alone in the corner just observing, she is now an active member of the group, greeting everyone as she comes in, smiling, and generally a nice person to be around.

The ‘yes’ moment came with her when we compared her ‘before’ and ‘after’ feedback forms (questionnaires that measure wellbeing and happiness that we give to members when they join, and then again after some time has passed). Her first form had an average score of 1.5 out of 5, a few months later her score was 4.7! I could have cried with happiness! She told us how much coming to our club made her happy every week. That was the moment!

An interview with Rootless Garden An interview with Rootless Garden

What are your biggest struggles?

Getting up in the morning! No seriously, I think it is knowing when to stop working. It is so hard to not think about Rootless Garden every second of the day, and night, and in between! There is very little work/life separation, but that is because when you love something this much, it becomes your life.

On a sector specific level, I think the biggest struggle is how little money there is in older peoples service, and how little attention they get. There are so many people out there trying to do such amazing work to help older people, but that becomes so difficult when you’re constantly faced with rejections because of finances.

What is the best story you can tell us of your work with older people?

There are so many awesome stories that I’ve collected over my time working on Rootless Garden. I’m not sure if I have a best one actually! But my favourite memories come from our project at The Bradbury Centre in Kingston. We ran a 12-week gardening club to transform the garden at the centre there.

The best day was when we had everyone put on full body suits paint the garden fence purple! We have our little group busying away, and a load of spectators from inside the club. The older people were so proud of the work they were doing. Over 12-weeks it got more and more beautiful. We paired up with a local mosaic artist to co-create a centre piece for the garden, built a raised bed for veggies, hung multi-coloured bird houses, and planted some beautiful flowers. And we won Kingston in Bloom – a local gardening competition, and even had tea with the Mayor to congratulate us!

What is the best advice you could give people who want to start out as social entrepreneurs?

It is so hard not to run off a load of clichés here…but I suppose they’re clichés for a reason, right? Everyone’s experience is so different! I think you’ve just got to embrace the adventure, the good and bad parts, of which there will be many! Connect with everyone around you. It is beautiful how much people will want to help you on your way. Other people are your biggest asset, so don’t forget them!

But most of all, I think I’d say really make sure you’re connected to your cause. It doesn’t matter how great your idea is unless you REALLY care about the end result or your clients. Make sure that they are at the heart of every decision you make.

Thank you so much Indie for taking the time for this and best of luck with your next steps! If you want to find out more about Rootless Garden, please go here.


  • Emmali
    May 6, 2015


    What a great idea, looking forward to reading more of these interviews :-)

    • Hanna
      May 6, 2015


      Thank you! I’m really looking forward to getting to know more people/ideas too :)

Meet Hanna
Hanna's Places - a green lifestyle blog

Hanna’s Places is a green lifestyle magazine written by Hanna Ulatowski. It’s all about slowing down in a fast-paced society and finding ways to live a more sustainable, simple lifestyle.

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