Gardening is a family affair

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By Beth Pinyerd

In the summer in Lee County, farms and gardens dot the landscape everywhere. I love to think of the intergenerational relationships that blossom in a gardening project between the young and old.
When my mother was living in a retirement village, I learned so much about the benefits of gardening when I would go and visit my senior friends. I loved seeing senior adults taking care of roses, weeding and growing vegetables in garden plots. Even in the skilled care area of the retirement village under the supervision of the staff, the residents, children and I were allowed to set up a big pot of fertile soil in the early summer, and be guided by the greenthumbs of seniors who showed us by years of wisdom what to plant and where to plant in the big pot. Summer gardening brings up fond memories of how the greater generation in our community always shared vegetables and fruits with each other.
I’d like to share some “food” for thought on how caregivers can provide ways for seniors to continue gardening. Gardening, whether for individuals, families or groups of senior adults, provide many health benefits.
Health benefits include:

  • Heart health research shows regular gardening helps lower blood pressure. Gardening also lowers the risks of strokes and heart attacks.
  • Research shows that gardening involves thinking things through, learning, solving problems, sensory stimulation and awareness. These processes increase brain health. This process is so good for the young and old!
  • Restorative therapy-gardening provides opportunities for low-impact exercises such as increased hand dexterity and hand strength. Gardening offers increased levels of physical activity, mobility and flexibility. The use of fine motor skills is encouraged through gardening skills. Gardening promotes hand-eye coordination. Too, gardening reduces stress levels. With exercises that gardening provides, relaxation is promoted.
  • Gardening truly helps provide emotional stability for the elderly. Research and studies show that elderly people who have been diagnosed with depression or other mental illnesses benefit from gardening activities. Taking care of a garden stimulates the creative aspect of a person. When we are allowed to have creative freedom, it uplifts us with a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
    The sights of beautiful colors, the sweet scents of different flowers and textures of soft petals bring back many good memories. Seniors like to connect with mother nature by growing their own foods.
    In our intergenerational garden projects, the children and I joined senior adults in cooking classes where we learned so much about different vegetables, fruits, measurements and of course the yummy, good tastes of fresh vegetables grown in their group gardens. Caregivers who are caring for seniors in their homes can provide the same benefits that gardening provides for their love ones.
    The questions you may ask as a caregiver are “how can I provide a garden environment that is accessible for my loved ones who may have a disability?” Too, as we age, we may have low stamina and limited mobility. We have to consider these factors in making a garden accessible for our elderly love ones. We will look at gardening tools for seniors and different kinds of accessible gardens.
    Gardening tools for the elderly:
  • Keep in mind that arthritis can make it painfully difficult to hold different garden tools. Foam grips are available in stores, which are used to soften the handle as well as add friction and traction for the garden tool to be picked up.
  • As the elderly begin to have vision loss due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes, etc., it is good for seniors to have brightly colored handles. These handles can be painted, or colorful bike tape or duct tape can be used.
  • Senior gardeners who have patios or gardens outside their apartments can benefit from hoses that are coiled and can be hooked up to a faucet that is close to the garden. Hoses can be hooked up to outside faucets or inside kitchen faucets.
    Easy-to-move wheeled garden caddies are a must for seniors in taking care of their gardens. These caddies serve as a container to hold tools, as well as moving plants and heavy objects.
    What kind of garden do we want to grow?
    Container, boxes, or pots gardening
    With container gardening, the main point to keep in mind is that the container needs to have good drainage with pre-installed holes or holes that the gardener drills. With container or pot gardening, it is important to water the plants according to instructions and requirements of the specific plants you are growing. Root length of the plant will determine the size and depth of the container.
    Consider adequate sunlight for your container gardening. Moving containers from one location to the next is essential in properly growing plants.
    Raised gardens can be made from wood, concrete or bricks. Keep in mind that anything that holds soil and is able to maintain shape is the best way to build a raised garden. When I have visited different state parks in Alabama, I have noticed many parks have the rectangular pattern raised gardens. Soil preparation for raised gardens consist of existing soil, compost or manure. Proper location of the raised garden has to be a site that provides the right amount of sunlight and water.
    Raised gardens benefit seniors because there is less need to bend or stoop. Raised gardens save on space and allow a variety of crops to grow closer together. This kind of gardening provides many therapeutic benefits.
    It’s important to consider physical conditions with our elderly. Remember that their skin is fragile and thin. We have to be careful to protect our loved ones from bumps, bruises and sunburn. Osteoporosis and other skeletal concerns may restrict movement for our loved ones. We have to be very careful with balance and falls.
    It has been my hope that these suggestions encourage you to get digging. The spiritual garden that is planted in our hearts bear fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control which can be shared with all.

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