FORT COLLINS, Colo. — What challenges do the elderly face when gardening in their senior years? The most challenging common disease among the elderly is arthritis according to Jane Stoneham and Peter Thoday, authors of Landscape Design for Elderly and Disabled People. A reduction in one’s mobility is the key restriction to keeping up the tasks needed for gardening.
Correspondingly, people need to change the way they garden. Containers and raised beds can still give elderly or disabled people an opportunity to grow some of the things they want without having to walk out into the landscape. Considering plants such as patio vegetables bred for container and even raised beds gives them the fresh food they need without a lot of effort. Then there is the issue of water. Built-in water reservoirs prove helpful to reducing the frequency of watering but having some form of automatic irrigation is the most efficient way to ensure success. In general, containers or raised beds need to be well-drained and have an adequate amount of soil to withstand extremes in temperatures. The less soil in these structures means they will dry out faster.
No matter what containers are used, there needs to be secure access to where these containers are located. Pots, raised beds, window boxes, tubs are all adequate for gardening. A direct path that is a non-slip surface to the containers or raised beds ensures a certain degree of safety and ease of access. A direct path helps those in wheelchairs, those who shuffle their feet and those who walk slowly to see their destination without any landscape features in their way. Placing a bench or some type of seating along the way under shade gives those who need time to rest a place to enjoy the landscape. If the person is not able to walk very far, then placing the containers where they can have immediate access to them is important for them to still enjoy gardening outside. It is healing for people who have very restricted mobility to be able to enjoy a view of the flowers and vegetables.
In many psychology studies today, those who have a hospital stay and have a view of a concrete building tend to stay longer. Those who have a hospital stay with a view of a tree or a beautiful landscape tend to have a shorter stay with less complications. According to the American Psychological Association, an article by Rebecca Clay (2001), Green is Good for You states that Roger S. Ulrich, PhD, director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University, has found that nature can help the body heal, too.
As we age, gardening shouldn’t end but rather continue differently. Keep the green in our lives for as long as we can. There is an important connection that restores our health. Think of it this way, though the amount of gardening may not be what you used to do, but in this case, less is more.
–Linda Langelo, Colorado State University Extension