Aged care facilities should ensure that residents have access to gardens, which research shows bring us all physical and psychological benefits, writes Cath Manuel.
For many people living in residential aged care, gardening has been an important part of their lifestyle for most of their lives.
Any gardener will tell you that they feel alive, healthy and happy after spending time digging in the dirt, pruning shrubs and picking flowers.
Although plants and gardens have provided peace and harmony for many centuries, it was during the early 1800s that horticulture became increasingly used within the medical industry to treat mental illness.
Gardens and landscaped settings were created within psychiatric hospital grounds to provide access to quiet spaces, grassed areas, winding paths and gardens beds for flowers.
Patient’s senses were awakened and improvements to emotional wellbeing were noted.
In the early 1900s, horticulture was used for people with physical disabilities and is now used throughout the world to assist older people and those special needs, including people living with dementia, intellectual and physical disabilities or recovering from injury or illness.
Evidence of the benefits
Thanks to a growing body of research internationally, we have evidence to show that gardening is good for our wellbeing.
Theresa Scott from the University of Queensland in 2012 found that “simply being in view of a garden or nature leads to enhanced wellbeing.”
Further research from Thrive, an organisation in the UK that uses gardening to benefit older people and those living with a disability, has found improvements to physical and psychological wellbeing, increased knowledge, skills and the desire to learn, reduced loneliness and social isolation and provided volunteering opportunities within the community (see the Thrive website for more).
People who have been active outdoors throughout their life, and then have this taken from their daily routines upon entering residential care, can become frustrated, anxious and experience increased stress levels.
By participating in regular gardening activities, marked improvements in health and wellbeing for residents are evident, and the flow-on effect from this gentle form of physical activity is of benefit to staff and management of organisations.
Increasing popularity in residential care
Horticultural or garden therapy is growing rapidly in Australia and is provided within many aged care organisations, disability services and mental health services and to assist people recovering from injury and illness.
Many facilities have gardens available for residents and clients to access, but are often under-utilised as staff are not confident or are inexperienced in providing gardening activities.
From visiting community organisations and aged care facilities, I have seen many beautifully landscaped garden areas filled with low maintenance plants. While lovely to look at, these areas are quite uninviting for residents and guests and don’t provide a space for the keen gardener to get their hands in the dirt.
As Hans Christian Anderson put it:
“Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.”
Ultimately, gardening is all about the journey, not the destination.
So head outside and enjoy a little sunshine and laughter as you harvest the wonderful health benefits from Mother Nature.
Cath Manuel is the founder of Soil to Supper and provides services and programs through the Gardening for Health and Wellbeing Program.
The full version of this article, including top tips for aged care facilities, appears in the current issue of Australian Ageing Agenda magazine (Nov-Dec).