Pigeon holing people into specific generations – Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials – seems to be the fad these days. Much of this has to do with marketing but some has to do with changing needs. A landscape trade magazine recently ran a story on how to help aging Baby Boomers enjoy their gardens and landscapes even as their needs and capabilities change.
People have had anecdotal knowledge for centuries that green plants, colorful flowers and fresh air have a positive effect on our health. Recent studies have validated it. Researchers have found that gardening and just being outdoors can reduce stress, and the increased physical activity is very productive exercise. The trouble is, the physical aspect of gardening often limits seniors.
If you’re planning to renovate your landscape to accommodate age-related limitations, here are a few considerations, whether you’re retaining a professional designer or doing it yourself:
• Safety should be your number one concern. Fall-prevention should be part of every design decision. Falling can cause more serious injuries for seniors than for younger people.
• Landscapes for seniors should include plenty of shade and seating. Most seniors have to take frequent breaks, so be sure you have a cool, shaded place to sit down and rest. Direct sunlight is not good for the skin, even with sunscreen, and it isn’t good for aging eyes, either.
• Learn labor-saving techniques so you can make the most of your energy and mobility. If you’re a perfectionist, lighten up. Learn to accept imperfection. “Gardening for a Lifetime, How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older,” a book by Sydney Eddison, has a chapter on this subject.
• Raised beds, trellises and terracing can all decrease the impact on your back and legs. Raised beds should have wide caps so you can sit on them and tend your plants. Trellises and other vertical planters let you garden from a standing position. If your property is hilly, have the hills terraced. Gardening on terraces will reduce strain on your back and legs and will reduce the chance of falling.
• Prioritize. Don’t try to do everything at once like you used to. Do what absolutely has to be done first and put the rest off for another day.
• Think ahead. As we age, we may eventually find ourselves using a motorized scooter or wheelchair. Wide, smooth, paved paths with no stairs are essential for navigating with these aids. They will even benefit you as your legs begin to show wear, and will reduce the chance of falling. Failing eyesight is another fact of aging, so good lighting is important if you want to be able to enjoy your landscape in the evening.
• A low maintenance design will reduce the frustration you’ll experience as weeding and other work get more difficult. It will also save you money when you have to hire someone for these tasks.
• Include bird and butterfly-attracting, as well as, edible plants in your design. The thought of nice, juicy tomatoes and other produce can be a great incentive to keep going when your body would prefer not to. Between tasks, sitting and resting while you watch birds and butterflies fly around can be especially relaxing.
• If your landscape design calls for containerized plants, use lightweight plastic or fiberglass containers rather than terra cotta or ceramic. Placing them on wheeled platforms will let you move them around easily.
What I’ve just covered is a gardening overview of a movement called “aging-in-place.” Its practitioners advocate bringing needed services to seniors instead of forcing them into various stages of assisted living, This allows them to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Garden aging-in-place, and horticulture therapy help extend that time by allowing seniors to spend time outside gardening and enjoying their landscapes and the benefits they provide for people of all ages.