Spring Time is Garden Time
by Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

As the earth warms up, days get longer and the seed catalogs begin to arrive – the activity professional may begin to schedule gardening programs into the monthly schedule.  Indoor and outdoor gardening can prove to be a therapeutic and beneficial approach for the populations residing in our long term care communities.  Additionally, caring for indoor and outdoor plants of all kinds may have been a lifelong interest for some of our residents.  Many projects can be completed with minimal cost and the benefits are priceless. The following is a summary of key points related to developing garden programs with the elderly:

Benefits: There are physical, cognitive and emotional benefits to garden programs.  The physical aspect involves stretching, reaching, and range of motion which improves flexibility and strength.   Being outdoors amid nature environments is refreshing and relaxing.  Focusing on the tasks associated with gardening reduces stress and anxiety for some.    Seeing good results from the gardening projects, whether it is a pretty flower or a ripe tomato, gives the elder a sense of accomplishment and achievement.  Gardening can be a solitary activity or spent with others who share a love for working with plants and flowers.  Socializing and reminiscing is a natural occurrence when working in the garden with peers.

Outdoor gardening: The garden programs can be as simple as helping a resident care for a plant in their room or as extensive as a large outdoor vegetable or flower garden.  Before embarking on a garden program, the activity professional should assess the interest level of the residents as well as available resources.  It is often best to start small and build upon daily successes.  Container gardening is a great way to develop interest on a small scale.  Waist high, redwood tubs on wheels make excellent portable gardens.  They can be started indoors and moved to an outdoor patio area in warmer weather.  They can be positioned for success and moved from resident to resident. If this proves to be successful, stationary waist high gardening beds can be built in the outdoor areas.  There is nothing better than an abundant vegetable garden, where the residents can pick their own vegetables and use them in cooking groups.

Indoor gardening: There are many options for indoor gardening.   Sunny windows in common areas are popular locations for houseplants of all kinds unless it is a dedicated memory care area. The safety of the residents must be considered when introducing the indoor garden program by selecting safe plants and materials, as well as their accessibility in common areas.  This is not saying those with dementia cannot participate in indoor garden programs, just that they may need limited accessibility and  more supervision and guidance.

Resources: There are many resources available for gardening from raised beds to built up grips and adaptive devices for gardening.  If available, consider calling your local Cooperative Extension Service and ask for a Master Gardener volunteer. Master gardeners are trained volunteers who may assist you in setting up your program, giving talks to your residents or sharing resources in the area.   Check out your local college for potential Horticulture Therapy programs.  Contact the professor and see if the Horticulture Therapy students could volunteer at the facility for course credit.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
~Dorothy Frances Gurney,

Check out the Distance Learning Programming on Gardening
Gardening as a Therapeutic Approach
NCCAP Pre-Approved for Seven Continuing Education Hours.