“Would you call yourself a green thumb?” asks Marie-Claude Poirier, Activity Aide at Résidence Cité Parkway Retirement Residence.
Gardening is a family affair for one of the Ottawa retirement community’s newest residents, Ernest. The 81-year-old father of two learned the art from his father, who grew and sold fresh vegetables for a living. In turn, Ernest passed his passion down to his own children.
The garden is a labour of love at Cité Parkway.
“The raised garden beds were cut, stained, and assembled by our residents during our maintenance workshops, lead by Joey Bookhout (the Director Environmental Services)”, recounts Poirier. An innovative program at All Seniors Care, We Can Build It Workshops are offered at retirement homes around the country. “During the workshops, our maintenance staff teach practical skills – making birdhouses, building garden boxes, or even how to program their security systems”, she explains.
After a group prepares the soil and plants seeds, Ernest helps with the majority of the upkeep. With pride he lists the plants currently growing in the garden:
“Ernest thoroughly enjoys gardening! In the past, he’s even received rewards for his prize-winning tomatoes”, Poirier says. “It’s definitely his favourite pastime; he’s gardened for the majority of his life. Thanks to him, our little garden is thriving!”
A fountain of information, Ernest readily shares tricks and tips for keeping the garden fresh and healthy, like how to make sure the plants are trimmed and watered regularly. Other residents enjoy walking around the garden to look at the vegetables, and the flowers around the building!
Benefits of Gardening
There’s a certain magic to being in a garden full of life and opportunity.
Perhaps it’s the delicious elements that stimulate the senses: the smell of flowers and freshly turned soil, the vibrant colours, the feel of the sun and wind, hearing the bees buzzing, tasting what you’ve grown. Or perhaps it’s that gardening keeps you moving and outdoors. The health benefits of gardening into your golden years have been well researched and the verdict is in. The world’s longest living people tend to share this hobby: gardening!
1. Heart Healthy Hobby
If you think about the movements and motions you go through in a typical gardening session, you will probably recall walking, reaching, bending, a sheen of sweat on your brow, and even your heart rate rising. Considered moderate cardiovascular exercise, a single hour of gardening can burn up to 300 calories! More importantly exercise can help to reduce and maintain positive blood pressure readings.
2. Boosts Confidence
Some seniors feel as if they no longer have an impact on the world around them. Planting and growing a successful garden can provide an antidote. Even if you weren’t born with a green thumb, after tilling, planting, nurturing, and harvesting plants, you will likely experience success, which builds confidence and boosts self-esteem.
3. Promotes Relaxation
Gardening and plant care provide physical activities for people to do, distracting the mind and body from other cares. According to AgriLife Today, increased access to green spaces also reduces psychological distress. Mental restoration occurs when seniors have a view of vegetation or spend time in natural settings. This makes gardening a form of mindfulness meditation, promoting stress-relief and relaxation. It’s so effective that gardening is often promoted as a potent form of therapy for seniors.
4. Grow Your Sense of Community
You don’t have to weed alone – nor should you. Activities that promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage interaction with peers are recommended to prevent social isolation and loneliness. Group membership may be especially important for ageing adults, especially during periods of change such as moving into new senior housing. Connecting with other members of a gardening group allows people to receive social support and to contribute positively to the lives of others as they the fruits – or vegetables- of their labour.
5. Improves Nutrition
A productive plot can promote healthy choices by raising awareness and appreciation of fresh produce. It’s as farm-to-table as it gets! Gardening helps people develop a lasting habit of eating enough fruits and vegetables, something recommended by the Canada Food Guide.
6. Therapeutic Gardening for Dementia
The creative and tactile experience of being near to nature is not only good for well-being, but studies indicate that it may help relieve symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Gardening can help people in the early stages of dementia retain many functional capabilities. Using interactive garden features such as birdfeeders, raised garden beds, and bird baths maximizes the sensory and social aspects for those in mid-stage disease. With adequate paths and lighting, people who are living with late-stage dementia may enjoy simply being in the garden, walking or wheeling the paths with the help of a care partner.
Memory Care Herb Garden
Auburn Heights Retirement Residence in Calgary provides a wonderful example of how gardens can benefit seniors living with dementia.
Mackenzie Percy, a Recreation Therapist working on the building’s Memory Care floor, says, “We’ve planted basil, peppermint, and rosemary in one of our garden boxes.’
“When we sit outside on our patio, I usually pick one or two herb leaves and have the residents smell them. Then, we discuss what we might use the herbs for”, Percy continues. “They will tell me how those herbs remind them of the times they cooked at home for their children. The peppermint reminds them of peppermint candies. It’s really beautiful to experience.”
Some of our strongest memories, our most potent associations, are triggered by odor. A smell that you associate with an event or moment in the past will often transport you to that moment. And, anything that has the power to channel reminiscences should be part of the daily life of any person with dementia.
Let Nature Nurture You
Find assisted living facilities for your loved ones (or yourself) that allow them to continue to pursue their favourite hobbies. Those who love gardening should explore our senior homes in Ottawa, London, and Stratford. Find out how we can facilitate active and independent senior lifestyles all while offering adaptable levels of care. It’s part of the way we ensure our residents have the freedom to age in place.
Those who love gardening should get in touch with us today and ask about gardening at our many seniors living centres across the country. Gardening activities lend themselves easily to people of all ages and abilities. This in turn builds teamwork, self-esteem, and self-confidence, and social interaction.