“The glory of gardening – hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul,” said Alfred Austen.
Many people living in aged care villages are familiar with the good feelings given after spending time planting, tending and harvesting from their gardens. Most residents grew up with parents growing food in their backyards or having farms to manage.
When moving to a new home and having to leave behind many years of nurturing one’s garden space, there can be feelings of loss, anxiety and stress around how to reconnect with that special place and where to find somewhere to grow again.
Horticultural Therapy has been used for centuries to improve the health and wellbeing of people’s bodies, minds and spirit. It’s highly beneficial for people living in aged care, especially for residents with dementia, also assists with the recovery from stroke, heart attack and other illnesses and is of great benefit for people with disability and mental health problems.
These benefits range from the physical and psychological to cognitive improvements.
As part of a Horticultural Therapy program, sessions are scheduled to suit each ‘gardener’ and hands-on activities range from potting up, seed sowing, growing herbs and flowers, to creating edible gardens, weeding, watering and making garden art.
By connecting with nature and helping to create and maintain a garden, residents are having fun, while reducing stress, anxiety, blood pressure and increasing muscle strength, and flexibility.
Plants that have therapeutic qualities are grown within therapy gardens. These plants assist to stimulate the senses, provide opportunities to reminisce and encourage lovely conversations.
Among those are lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, various basil, chives, parsley…and many others. All have sensory qualities, for example lavender stimulates sight, scent, touch, smell and taste.
When growing plants for therapeutic uses and also within memory support units, it’s important to know the plant’s characteristics to ensure it is suitable for growing. Avoid plants with poisonous foliage, harsh spikes or sticky sap.
The first step to encouraging an in-house gardening program is to head outside. Try scheduling a small group activity of potting annual flowers or herbs or arranging for a garden walk. This will help to start conversations around a gardening group and what residents enjoying doing.
From there on you can all start to grow!
Cath Manuel is a horticultural therapist based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. She runs weekly gardening programs at aged care and community centres. Horticultural Therapy Programs are held in-house, along with staff training and seasonal gardening programs, and provide a holistic approach to the wellbeing of residents.
For more information on Horticultural Therapy programs please visit soiltosupper.com.