As we enter our twilight years, it’s the perfect time to engage in stimulating activities that promote wellbeing, whilst also providing a fun workout – gardening certainly ticks all those boxes!
Since ancient times, plants have always provided us with food to enrich our bodies, shelter to keep us safe and warm, and medicine to keep us healthy. It’s vital, therefore, that we ensure our ageing population have plants and nature playing a role in their lives in whatever way possible.
The beauty of gardening is that you can do as little or as much as you wish depending on your physical ability. Whether it’s taking cuttings or transplanting that tree or shrub that has outgrown its space in the garden, research has shown that there are many benefits to getting our hands dirty and being out in the fresh air.
According to Kenshi Nishino (2014), the conclusion from research done is that there are changes in circulation of the blood in the brain when nature stimulates the senses, thus nature can often help revive the senses and support mental and cognitive functions.
For folks who may be partially sighted, the sensory stimulation from plants can work wonders – from the textures of the leaves and bark, fragrance from the flowers and rubbing the leaves to release scents and oils, to sounds of seeds in a pod or the rustling of leaves in the wind. For the sense of taste, there’s that chance to bite into a juicy, cherry tomato or taste the peppery flavour of the Nasturtium leaves or flowers.
Social and cognitive benefits
In a care or nursing home environment, organisations like Hortic Therapy CIC deliver table top gardening sessions so that residents who may have restricted mobility continue to experience the pleasure of nature at its best. Delivering these sessions, I have seen so many benefits including previously agitated or upset residents becoming calm again. The social interaction of everyone sitting around a table and mixing compost to sow seeds or create a mini herb garden, has been great for cognitive stimulation, as residents share their gardening stories and recall their gardening memories. The action of mixing the compost and letting the media run through your fingers whilst breaking up any lumps is amazing for hand eye coordination and harnessing the fine motor skills. Residents who have previously been gardeners have often commented that they miss the smell of the earth!
Gardening is for sure great for health and happiness for any age group but, for me, the evidence is clear that as we age, we can benefit even more.