You don’t have to be an expert to recognize the profound effects nature has on our bodies and spirits. Simply being outside in the fresh air and sunshine provides a sense of mental clarity and overall well-being. Nonetheless, experts have done significant research on our interaction with the natural world, recording the evidence of its many benefits.
“Seniors especially can benefit from interacting with nature through horticultural therapy. Planting and enjoying the results of a therapeutic garden is considered one of many proven, holistic treatments for those in need of rehabilitation and healing, stimulation, social engagement and more. Nancy Clanton, Community Relations Director at Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay in Venice, FL, states, “Seniors experience remarkable benefits from connecting to the earth. The practice of planting flowers and vegetables, getting their hands dirty and watching their efforts turn into beautiful results gives them a sense of empowerment that too often vanishes with age.”
The Nature of Horticultural Therapy
According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA), the benefits of horticultural therapy have been proven by time itself, with documented studies dating back to the nineteenth century. Today, the practice of gardening is often used for rehabilitation of lost skills, memory improvement, balance and muscle coordination, stress management and social connection.
Therapeutic gardens are becoming increasingly popular among senior living communities for their unique and comprehensive benefits. The AHTA describes a therapeutic garden as “a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature.” With features such as easily accessible entrances and walking paths, raised planting beds and a sensory-oriented selection of plants with various colors, textures and fragrances, therapeutic gardens are well equipped to address the common needs most seniors face.
Benefits of Therapeutic Gardening
With age, we become more vulnerable to physical limitations, poor health and the difficult emotional struggles that accompany these changes. For this reason, therapeutic gardening blossoms as a welcome activity for independent seniors, as well as residents in assisted living communities.
An article published in the quarterly journal Psychiatry Investigation titled “What Is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly?,” by Mark B. Detweiler et al., gathered information from various studies to prove the benefits of therapeutic gardening. Highlights include:
- Physical Activity – Gardening is considered one of the best opportunities for seniors to get their exercise. Planting, daily pruning and watering and even just walking through a garden can help them stay physically well, promoting muscle movement, coordination, heart and lung health and flexibility.
- Pain Reduction – Spending time in nature can reduce how much people perceive pain. Detweiler et al. claims that the sensory stimulation provided in a natural setting can actually keep us from noticing unpleasant feelings, both physical and emotional. This offers a natural pain reliever for those suffering from chronic illnesses, long recoveries, joint pain, etc.
Studies have shown that patients recovering from surgery not only need less medicinal pain relief, but also recover much faster when given access to nature. Simply bringing plants into the hospital room was enough to provide these benefits.
- Improved Attention – Therapeutic gardening can help improve attention span and the ability to concentrate. Being engulfed by the colors, textures, smells and sounds in a garden stimulates our involuntary attention, which allows the mind to wander and clear itself without causing fatigue or stress. Using involuntary attention reserves the mind’s energy and helps us pay “voluntary” attention when we need to concentrate.
- Reduced Stress – Studies show that being in nature can improve how our bodies react to stress. Seniors suffering from stressors such as health concerns, mobility problems, loneliness and grief can benefit greatly from spending time in a garden. Nature provides a sense of calm and reassurance through growing things and pleasant surroundings.
- Empowerment – Working in a garden can give seniors a sense of control in their lives. For many, aging involves increased dependence on others, which can impact their self-esteem. However, tending to living things gives seniors independence, knowing that their actions can make things grow. They can watch as their flowers bloom or their tomatoes ripen and enjoy a feeling of accomplishment in what they’ve done.
- Socialization – Gardens are wonderful tools for building a strong community. For example, residents of an assisted living community gardening together have so many opportunities for connection, especially since their garden gives them both literal and figurative common ground! Flowers, herbs and vegetables that they grow can be shared among the community, connecting residents to caregivers, cooks, visitors and each other.
A Culture of Growth and Connection
“At Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay, residents enjoy elegant surroundings full of natural beauty,” says Nancy. “From tall windows that add sunlight to every room to enchanting walking paths and gardens, everyone has the chance to interact with nature and experience its benefits however they choose.
“Our community places a strong emphasis on engagement, providing our residents with all the resources they need to live well. Gardening is among the many activities we offer as part of our Signature Life Enrichment programs, and residents enjoy contributing to our community’s beautiful setting – and to the delicious meals prepared in our Tuscan Kitchen!
“Our very name encourages all of us to enjoy the beauty, engagement and well-being that a garden can give.”