A garden is one of those rare places that touches all of your senses as well as your spirit; a multicolored space to relax, heal, enjoy natural beauty, and rest (maybe after a bit of work).
In addition, research shows that nature can improve the health and wellbeing of seniors, and stimulate a sense of renewal by taking them out of their routine, reawakening their senses and increasing activity levels.
So, regardless of whether the purpose is for exercise or relaxation, how do we make the backyard or garden more senior-friendly?
How Does Your Garden Grow?
Depending upon the physical capabilities of the senior, tending to a garden can be a rigorous, “down-in-the-dirt” workout of planting, pruning, watering and weeding. Perhaps the desired effort can be less physically challenging, like watering, but a still immensely satisfying experience. Here are some suggestions to make things a little easier.
Low-Maintenance but Highly Enjoyable
A bird feeder provides a great nature show, and they are ideal for almost any area in the yard. Also, flowers in pots outside a window are easy to plant and maintain while providing a colorful display.
If you are little more adventurous, tasty and fragrant herbs can be grown in small pots with some sunlight and a little water.
Getting Around the Garden or Yard
For seniors who use walkers or wheelchairs, ramps can provide access to all areas of the yard. Just make sure the ramp surface is wide enough, provides good traction, is level, drains well, curves gently, and includes areas large enough to turn a wheelchair around. Also consider handrails, particularly on curves or changes of elevation, or if steps are being used. Check walkways and ramps for obstacles and debris that may be a hazard should be checked periodically.
Give the Garden a Lift
Elevated planting beds or pots can reduce or eliminate bending to tend the plants. Just make sure the beds are narrow enough so that all areas can be reached without leaning over too far.
Many plants and flowers do well on a trellis or arbor, including cucumbers, squash, melons, beans, clematis, roses and morning glories. Tomatoes thrive in cages. Vertical plantings require less space and are more accessible.
Handy Gadgets for a Senior-Friendly Garden
Automatic irrigation systems are available to lessen the need for watering cans or hoses. Also, low-voltage, solar-powered lights can illuminate paths as evening approaches. Motion-sensing lights just out the front and back doors can help by immediately illuminating the first steps outside.
Some tools are also getting easier to use for seniors with arthritis. Rakes have literally gotten handier over the last few years with extra handles that better conform to the natural motion of the wrist. Some come with an attached scoop to make leaf pickup easier. Water wands extend the user’s reach while watering, and padded kneelers take pressure off the knees and allow the gardener to push themselves up with their arms. There are other lightweight and long-handled tools that are adapted for seniors available as well.
A self-propelled or riding lawn mower reduces the effort required to mow grass, or a caregiver, nice neighbor or professional could provide the service.
A quality pair of pruners and knowing how to use them are important. If your hand position is wrong while using a pruner, tendinitis can develop.
Hold your hand in a neutral or straight position. Your grip strength is greatest when your hand is not at an angle to your forearm, and there is less tension on your wrist. Some pruners are designed with handles that rotate as you cut, reducing the strain on hand muscles.
Also, get a pruner that fits. When you place the pruner in your hand, the handle should stick out about ½-inch below your little finger.
Native is Nice
Using plants that are native to your area has many benefits. Native plants:
- Are adapted to the climate and soils
- Require little or no irrigation
- Seldom require fertilizers or pesticides
- Attract birds, butterflies, and pollinators
In Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation offers information on native plants.
Enjoy, Share, Grow
Enjoy your gardening, but don’t overdo it. You might try alternating tasks—prune for a few minutes, then rake, take a break, and then do some weeding. There is no rush. If it is warm, take time to sit in the shade, drink plenty of fluids, or go inside to rest and cool off.
A garden is a great place to spend time with your adult children or friends, and a wonderful opportunity to teach children how nature works. If there isn’t room for a garden in your yard or you just want to garden occasionally, a neighbor or friend might love your help in their garden.
Whatever you are able to do, get outside; reconnect, revive and grow something beautiful in your backyard or garden. It’s that time of year again.
Find more Senior Home Safety tips on Bethesda’s blog.