Gardening is a healthy, stimulating activity that can be enjoyed by older people. It increases physical activity and maintains mobility and flexibility. As we approach the height of the Spring Racing Carnival in the southern states, the images of flowers and ceremony abound. Every Australian knows that Flemington Racecourse is home to the Melbourne Cup 'the race that stops the nation'. But what many don't know is that it is also home to the largest (and many would argue the most beautiful) rose garden in the Southern Hemisphere.
Boasting over 16 000 rose bushes, the Flemington Race Course Rose Garden is a fragrant and colourful mass planting. It is home to a variety of different roses such as 'Graham Thomas', 'Manou Meillard' and Rosa 'Crepuscule'. The roses are meticulously cultivated and cared for by Terry Freeman, The Keeper of the Roses – a man who has tended to the garden for over 40 years.
When Terry Freeman began working as an apprentice at Flemington back in 1976 there were 6000 roses but today the Rose Garden has grown in both size and in beauty. Keeping the gardens at Flemington blooming is a labour of love and requires a strict schedule.
Gardening has many health and therapeutic benefits for older people, especially edible gardening. Garden beds, equipment and tools can all be modified to create a garden that is interesting, accessible and productive.
The Victorian State Government on their Better Health Hub has some excellent information on safe and beneficial gardening for older Australians.
Benefits of gardening for older people:
- It is an enjoyable form of exercise
- It increases levels of physical activity and helps mobility and flexibility
- It encourages use of all motor skills
- It improves endurance and strength
- It helps prevent diseases like osteoporosis
- It reduces stress levels and promotes relaxation
- It provides stimulation and interest in nature and the outdoors
- It improves wellbeing as a result of social interaction
- It can provide nutritious, home-grown produce.
Health considerations in the garden:
- Some physical, mental and age-related conditions must be considered when older people work in the garden, but they should not prevent people from enjoying the garden. These include:
- Fragile, thinning skin makes older people susceptible to bumps, bruises and sunburn.
- Changes in the eye lens structure, loss of peripheral vision and generally poorer eyesight can restrict activities.
- Mental health, thinking and memory abilities may be affected by dementia and similar conditions.
- Susceptibility to temperature changes and a tendency to dehydrate or suffer from heat exhaustion, are common concerns with outdoor physical activity for older people.
- Falls are more common because balance is often not as good. Osteoporosis and arthritis may restrict movement and flexibility.
Adjustments to equipment and the garden for older people
Garden spaces, tools and equipment can be modified or adapted to help reduce the physical stress associated with gardening for older people. Suggestions include:
- Using vertical planting to make garden beds accessible for planting and harvesting – try using wall and trellis spaces
- Raising beds to enable people with physical restrictions to avoid bending and stooping
- Using retractable hanging baskets, wheelbarrows and containers on castors to make suitable movable and elevated garden beds
- Finding adaptive tools and equipment – these are available from some hardware shops
- Using foam, tape and plastic tubing to modify existing tools for a better grip
- Using lightweight tools that are easier to handle
- Providing shade areas for working in summer months
- Having stable chairs and tables to use for comfortable gardening
- Making sure that there is a tap nearby or consider installing a drip feeder system for easy water
Safety in the garden for older people
Safety tips that older people (and their carers) should follow include:
- Attend to any cuts, bruises or insect bites immediately.
- Take care in the use of power tools.
- Secure gates and fences if memory loss is an issue.
- Ensure that paths and walkways are flat and non-slip.
- Warm up before gardening and encourage frequent breaks.
- Prevent sun exposure by working in the garden early in the morning or late in the day. Wear a hat and apply sunscreen frequently.
- Drink water or juice, and avoid alcohol.
- Wear protective shoes, lightweight comfortable clothes that cover exposed skin, a hat and gardening gloves.
- Store garden equipment safely.
Gardening activities for older people
There are many activities associated with cultivating a garden that older people may enjoy. These include:
- Harvesting food and flowers
- Sensory enjoyment – smelling, touching, looking, listening, remembering
- Crafts and hobbies associated with plants
- Food preparation.
Where to get help
- Community or local garden groups
- Local council
- Cultivating Community Tel. (03) 9429 3084
- Occupational Therapy Australia, Victoria Division Tel. (03) 9481 6866
- Horticultural Therapy Association of Victoria Tel. (03) 9836 1128.
If you need help with managing domestic environments that still bring you joy, Right at Home though their many offices in Australia provides services to assist in area such wellness and companionship and will be able to provide home care services that suit your loved ones needs.
Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care, and assistance to seniors and adults living with a disability who want to continue to live independently or age in their home. Right at Home is your local expert for issues related to caring for your loved ones, and is dedicated to keeping you informed about home care. With no admin or subscription fees Right at Home allows you to get more care from your package or budget.
Right at Home is a 'My Aged Care' government approved, home care provider for levels 1 – 4 and offers flexible in-home care services such as nursing care, after hospital care, post-operative care, respite care, dementia and Alzheimer's care. Right at Home also offers assistance with daily living such as grooming, hygiene, transport, shopping, meal prep, domestic services and social support, so your loved one can enjoy a more independent, vibrant life. Our nurses and caregivers are screened, highly trained and insured prior to entering your home so you can trust us with the caregiving while you focus on your loved one.
To find out more, please give us a call on 1300 363 802 or visit our website.