Gardening Therapy and Recreation for Seniors

The Garden Club, Van Duyn Center, Syracuse NY

The Garden Club, Van Duyn Center for Rehab & Nursing, Syracuse NY

The Garden Club, Van Duyn Center, Syracuse NY

Eating Fruit off the Tree, Garden Club, Van Duyn Center, Syracuse NY



Gardening is Good for Everyone!

Gardening brings us closer to nature with all the health benefits available in a beautiful garden. The fragrant smells of blossoms, the good smell of dug up earth, the smell of cut grass all have a beneficial effect on our senses – aroma therapy at its best!

Gardening Clubs and Therapy Gardens for Seniors

Recognizing the benefits that gardening has for seniors, more and more rehabilitation facilities are offering gardening clubs as recreation and therapy for seniors. A good example is the Garden Club in the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing located in a beautiful setting on top of Onondaga Hill in Syracuse New York.

Therapy gardens are specifically designed for rehabilitation, restoring motor skills and enabling access for seniors in wheel chairs. Therapy gardens may have special areas set aside for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s like a memory walk.

Some places even have greenhouses so that gardening activities can be continued all year round.

Benefits for Seniors in Gardens

Gardening is a non-pharmacological way to get therapeutic benefits.

Seniors get good physical exercise in the fresh air. It can help strengthen muscles and improve eye hand coordination.

Gardening is a relaxing and pleasant form of exercise that is good for the heart, so long as no one over does it and gets fatigued.

Gardening boosts self-esteem in seniors who get a lot of feelings of satisfaction by growing their own nutritious vegetables. These feelings are multiplied when seniors actually eat the vegetables they have planted. Seniors feel they are doing something worthwhile and sharing and eating the labors of their hands gives them a wonderful sense of peace and contentment.

According to studies, gardening and/or exposure to nature can reduce depression, lower pain thresholds, reduce stress and anxiety,  improve attention, lessen agitation and lower the need for certain kinds of medication.

Gardening uses both fine and gross motor skills –  fine motor skills with the hands and fingers like planting seeds and pulling weeds and gross motor skills like digging with a hoe.

Gardening is a great socialization activity and promotes good social interaction and communication with other seniors in a group garden setting.

Gardening is a way for seniors to learn new skills or remember past gardening abilities. Seeing certain kinds of flowers and vegetables may awaken good memories.

Senior Friendly Safety Tips for Gardening

Seniors can benefit from spending time in the garden as long as certain conditions are met to make the garden senior friendly.

Seniors are more prone to falls than the rest of the population. Paths must be wide and flat to give wheel chair access and cleared of rocks and rubble that could lead to trips.

Seniors should wear good strong orthopedic shoes that have non-slip soles.

Gardening tools should not be left lying around for someone to trip on.

Seniors are often prone to dehydration and heat exhaustion, especially if they are on certain kinds of medications that can increase thirst, so they must bring along a bottle of water, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sun screen. It is a good idea to check with a pharmacist or doctor for seniors who are taking medications to make sure it is safe for them to be in the sun. Some pharmaceutical drugs can cause photo sensitivity, which causes itchy rashes on skin exposed to the sun.

Gardening beds should be raised so that seniors do not have to bend down, especially if they have osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. In fact even seniors in wheel chairs can do a bit of gardening in the raised beds.

Garden tools should be lightweight and ergonomic so that seniors can get a good grip on them.

Seniors should have a gardening cart or large plastic box with wheels to push tools around in the garden.

Seniors should have a good pair of gardening gloves to avoid cuts and scratches. Many seniors have thinning skin so it is easy to get bruises. Seniors should wear pants or long skirts to protect their legs.

In hot weather it is best to go out early in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the hottest times of day.

Seniors should not work too long at any task, but take frequent breaks.

A senior friendly garden should also have benches and comfortable chairs where they can sit and rest in the shade.

Seniors must be extra careful around pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals in the garden. Ideally, a garden for seniors should be an organic garden.

A gate that can be locked should be in place for seniors with memory loss, so that they do not wander off and get lost.


Gardening is a non-pharmacological beneficial recreational and therapeutic activity for seniors, as  long as the gardens are made safe and senior friendly.




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