Gardening is one of the healthiest and most gratifying activities seniors can participate in. With one simple activity, seniors can check off a whole list of “goals for health and well-being.” When seniors garden they:
- Spend time outdoors, appreciating and working with nature.
- Get a healthy dose of exercise.
- Feel productive and are able to witness the fruits of their labors (literally!).
- Can eat fresh fruits and vegetables year-round if the garden is designed appropriately.
- Have the opportunity to be more social with other community gardeners.
Gardening is a favorite hobby for many. However, it can be especially important for those who may have lost their ability to participate in other hobbies, like sports, woodworking or playing an instrument – all of which can require a level of physical activity level or dexterity that is no longer possible.
A love of gardening can be cultivated by all, but the key is to provide a safe and comfortable garden that the elderly can navigate easily – and this can be done with just a few modifications.
Tips For Creating an Accessible Garden For Seniors
The following tips can help you design an accessible garden that makes it easy for seniors to get outside and work a little bit each day.
Raise the beds. One of the most prohibitive features of most gardens or landscapes is that they are located on the ground. The older we get, the more difficult it is to kneel, or get back up, from a seated or kneeling position. Bending over is also more difficult and can alter a senior’s sense of balance, making him or her more prone to falling. Raised garden beds are a simple solution.
Build garden beds that are comfortable to work in from a wheelchair or stool. The beds should also be narrow enough that adults can comfortably reach past the mid-point of the bed so they don’t have to strain to access plants (or weeds) growing in the middle.
Add vertical trellises. Build vertical trellises for climbing plants so seniors can work at seated or standing level to harvest things like beans, tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, peas and other climbing vegetables.
Use accessible paths. In order to prevent falls, and to accommodate seniors who use mobility aids, pathways should be wide, flat and made from a hard, water-permeable surface. If you are designing raised beds in rows, the space between the beds should be wide enough for two seniors to pass by one another without complicated maneuvers.
Implement long handles and wands. Look for things like extended watering wands, tools with long and/or curved handles and comfortable-grip handles make it much easier for seniors to attend to their garden tasks.
Provide plenty of shade. Most vegetables love a hearty dose of sun, however seniors are particularly prone to sunburn, heat illness and dehydration. Make sure there are plenty of shaded areas where seniors can rest out of the sun, provide wide-brimmed hats and gardening gloves. During the hottest times of the year, advise seniors to wear light-colored, long-sleeved clothing and keep gardening hours to the earlier and later parts of the day when the sun’s rays aren’t as strong.
Ask for input on what to grow. Make sure your garden offers a wide array of colors, scents and flavors to keep things more interesting for the gardeners. Ask seniors for their input so they can grow fruits, vegetables and herbs they want to eat and that represent a variety of different food cultures.
For more information about starting a senior-friendly garden, read this PDF titled, Elder Accessible Gardening, published by the EPA.