It is a well-known fact that gardening is good for growers of any age. With seniors, it provides many benefits ranging from physical to mental. Gardening is a community activity and can help seniors in assisted living facilities connect with other residents and staff. It also provides motivation and boosts the feeling of contribution, things that many retirees miss after daily work life is substituted with the leisure status of a non-working person. Providing safe gardening beds and areas encourages daily activity while providing beautiful spaces for residents, staff and visitors to enjoy. The keys are safety and easy access so that even those who need mobility assistance can join in and enjoy the efforts.
According to the National Gardening Survey, nearly 3/4 of the American population participate in garden activities with the proportion of older gardeners firmly at 35%. It is an activity that those in their “golden years” can appreciate and offers many health benefits. On the physical side, gardening provides a low impact, moderately aerobic workout. Bending, stretching, and lifting are all parts of gardening that those who enjoy good health can participate in and enhance their overall well-being. The activity also boosts serotonin levels, enhances the immune response and relieves stress. Mentally, gardening engages the senses, boosts cognitive awareness, and lowers the risks of dementia.
Investing in garden tools and systems that are developed for older gardeners can make tasks easier and more enjoyable. Raised beds are ideal since they bring the work closer to tired eyes and make simple jobs like weeding, deadheading and harvesting vegetables accessible. Tools with ergonomically designed grips and longer handles ease the pain of arthritic hands and well used backs. Ensuring that pathways through gardens are non-slip, even to gently sloped, have handrails and resting spots, will keep gardening safe and enjoyable for seniors of all types of abilities.
If possible, residents should be involved in the design of garden spaces. Every assisted living community is different, but even the most modest can invest in raised beds or container gardens. Here are a few other elements to consider before you begin:
- Will produce be grown and used in the dining hall?
- Do gardeners want a mixture of culinary and flowering plants?
- What space is available and how will it be accessible?
- Are support staff or volunteers available to help with heavy or arduous tasks?
- Is there already a landscaping staff to assist with maintenance and items such as irrigation?
- What is the budget?
Once such important considerations have been vetted, the actual design or variety of the garden is a crucial step. Do residents want a butterfly or bird garden with comfortable seating in which to watch nature do its part? If there is a vegetable garden, can the food be used and safely and easily harvested? Will growing take place only outside or can containers be used to engage residents that are mobility challenged? Some tips on general concerns can help provide a secure, relaxing occupation for assisted living residents:
- Put up trellises and arbors to make fruits, veggies and blooms easily accessible.
- Avoid growing huge watermelons or other space takers and heavy items.
- Scatter resting places frequently, not only for breaks but also to enjoy the view.
- Use easy-to-grip tools that are manual and safe.
- Ensure each gardener has good foot gear, sun hats, gloves and sunglasses.
- Have residents garden in the morning or evening when it is cooler.
- Consider providing a water station for thirsty growers.
A well-planned and thoughtful garden is a beauty to behold and a joy for participants and guests. Combining the aspects of safety with usefulness will ensure that all the residents can take part if they wish. For more help, consider partnering with the local extension or Master Gardener’s Club. Community gardens and civic or religious organizations can also be great resources and partners. The thrill of participation and joy found in creating life and growing splendor doesn’t leave us as we age and should be available well into our retired years.