Seniors and Gardening

Seniors and Gardening

Since 1985, John Poyzer and his wife have leased a 20-foot-by-40-foot bed to plant vegetables at the Charmaine Nymann Community Garden at Bear Creek Regional Park in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A few years ago, Poyzer had a knee replaced, and the procedure could have disrupted his enjoyable Spring tradition. But Poyzer refused to let this happen.

“I had my surgery the first part of April, and our target to plant is mid-May, when things are warming up and seeds germinate,” Poyzer told the Denver Gazette. “I was able to get my walker moving up and down the rows, we were planting and use a hoe to make little trenches to drop seeds and fertilizer in. I could do most things, but a little slower than normal.”

Poyzer believes his annual gardening routine helped speed up his recovery from knee replacement surgery.

“You watch things getting green and seeds you’ve planted pop up,” he said. “In a way, it was probably therapy.”

Researchers can attest to Poyzer’s statement since studies have found that gardening has numerous physical, mental, and spiritual health benefits.
For one, gardening provides older adults with a good dose of vitamin D, according to Master Gardener Larry Stebbins, founder of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, a defunct nonprofit that built 12 community gardens in Colorado Springs.

Also, mingling with microorganisms in the soil can release serotonin, the natural chemical that relieves depression and strengthens the immune system, Stebbins told The Denver Gazette. If that isn’t enough, walking, pushing a wheelbarrow, bending to prepare soil, plant, weed, and harvest crops, breathing abundant fresh air, and everything else related to gardening is an excellent way of maintaining fitness while aging, according to Stebbins.

“They always tell you when you get older to keep moving,” Stebbins said. “This keeps us moving with low-impact aerobics, for the most part.”

Massachusetts Seniors Learn Lesson About Gardening and the Ecosystem

Not only does gardening have a positive effect on humans, but the activity also impacts the ecosystem, according to Rebecca Warner, author of The Sustainable-Enough Garden.

In a presentation to members of the Medfield Council on Aging in Medfield, Massachusetts, Warner stressed the importance of incorporating native plants (plants indigenous to a particular region, area, or ecosystem) within gardens and offered some sustainable gardening techniques.

Warner also discussed why gardeners should grow plants for native insects, finding the right balance of insects that should be found in a garden, and provided some insect-friendly garden maintenance tricks.

A yard may be filled with green, leafy plants, but from an insect’s point of view, it’s a “food desert” if it does not have native plants, Warner said in her presentation sponsored by the Medfield Garden Club and reported by Hometown Weekly.

“I used to think that any bug could eat my plants’ leaves, but that is just not the case,” Warner told the audience. “It turns out that 90% of insects depend on a group of plants that they coevolved with. So over the millennia, they have tailored their behavior and physiology to sense and locate those plants, and they have synchronized their lifestyle with those plants.” 

When determining which native plants to grow, Warner suggested doing research at home and bringing a list to the garden center when they are ready to purchase the plants.

Pennsylvania Seniors Share Produce With Their Community

Seniors in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA, visit the Thelma Lovette YMCA, not to take a physical fitness class or other courses for older adults but to tend a garden.

The activity provides seniors with a purpose beyond nutrition—it gives them a sense of community. Gardening also allows them to share their big bell peppers, baby cherry tomatoes, and other vegetables and fruits in the Hill District, where food insecurity has been a concern. Food options are limited because there are no grocery stores in the neighborhood. So, for some residents, the garden is the only place to get fresh produce.

“It’s not like they have a vast amount, but they do share what they do have here for all of us,” Jacqueline Foster, a volunteer gardener, told CBS News.

Terri Baltimore describes the garden as part of the ecosystem and history of the neighborhood.

“It’s been really good to see these things grow from those seedlings to things that the seniors can take home and eat,” Baltimore, who also works in the garden, told CBS News.

The garden is a partnership between UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center and seniors at the Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center.

Tips For Gardening and Planning

Gardening requires physical exertion, but seniors should not let their age stop them from engaging in this activity. Gardening is for anyone at any age, according to Cheryl Coddington, an occupational therapist and Washington State University Master Gardener of Cowlitz County.

Coddington said many participants in the Washington State University Master Gardener Program are in their 70s and 80s.

“Gardening should encompass the lifespan,” Coddington told The Reflector. “There’s no reason why [people] should have to stop.”
To maximize the enjoyment of the activity and avoid injury, Coddington offers tips for gardening and planting for seniors:

Gardening

  • To reduce the physical strain of gardening, find the right tools and equipment, such as chairs, kneeling pads, cushions, knee pads and seats, and tools with rubberized grips.
  • If you have arthritic hands, find tools with handles that fit your hand so you don’t have to grasp too tightly.
  • Protect delicate skin from cuts and tears. Older skin becomes thin and can easily become damaged, Coddington said.
  • Wear protective gloves and long sleeves to reduce the risk of injury. Thick gloves are good for digging and other gardening tasks. A thin pair of gloves that fits your hands well are good to use when planting.
  • Use raised beds or potted gardens to reduce the physical strain of cultivation.

Planting

Finding the right plants for the garden is just as important as finding the right tools. Coddington recommends that seniors:

  • Consider how much the vegetables and fruits they plant will produce. Will it be too much? Extra produce means additional work. Consider canning or freezing excess fruits and vegetables.
  • Consider the plant size. Is it going to be something you can reach, or is it going to be too tall?
  • Start small. Whether you are new to gardening or starting the hobby over again, start with taking care of a potted plant or have a window garden with lettuce or a small tomato plant inside your house.

It’s also important for seniors to be aware of their physical health and endurance and take breaks and rest as their body demands.

“You want to know what your limitations are,” Coddington said. “You’re going to want to pace yourself. Maybe you go out for 15 minutes and do some gardening for two or three days. If you tolerate that, OK, see about increasing it to 30 minutes.”

Consulting a doctor before increasing physical activity is always advisable, Coddington noted.

Source Links:

https://gazette.com/life/home-garden/gardening-in-the-golden-years-growing-old-and-staying-young/article_bc7bc5a2-e165-11ee-a1a5-1b56ad42b898.html
https://hometownweekly.net/medfield/seniors-learn-about-sustainable-gardening/
https://www.cbsnews.com/pittsburgh/news/garden-hill-district-thelma-lovette-ymca/
https://www.thereflector.com/stories/gardening-can-be-both-accessible-and-safe-for-seniors,325685

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