As spring continues in full bloom, now is the best time to think about finally starting your own garden. Because of our current global pandemic, all of us could use a little more joy in our lives. Growing plants, whether it be flowers, vegetables or fruit can help improve your mood, decrease anxiety and improve your overall health. While gardening might be a lifetime interest of yours or something you’ve never tried, its history is long.
History of Gardening
As you can imagine, gardening in the ancient times was mainly focused on cultivating plants that could be used as food. Instead of spending hours foraging for food, eventually people began planting these vines and trees together to make gathering food more accessible and efficient.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, many gardens were planted with the purpose of growing herbs for medicinal purposes. Monasteries and churchyards were known for housing beautiful and intricate gardens to supply infirmaries and kitchens. It wasn’t until later on that gardens were developed for aesthetics.
During the Elizabethan era, which came after many people died during the Black Death, there was more land available and gardens became centered on fruit, herbs and animals. By the 18th century, gardens really had no set borders and ventured into rolling hills. At this time, English gardens often contained a body of water, trees, flowers and other food producing plants. Still to this day, gardens bring sources of food, beauty and health benefits for all people.
Health Benefits for Seniors
Many people love to garden and grow their own produce, fruit and flowers, but many don’t know why gardening is so good for you. Both AARP and Good Housekeeping Magazine compiled a list of all the reasons why gardening is more than just a fun spring and summertime hobby.
• Lower Blood Pressure– According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 30 minutes of exercise each day can help seniors avoid health problems normally associated with aging, like high blood pressure. Gardening can increase your heart-rate helping you burn calories and build strength.
• Strengthen Bones– When you spend time gardening outside in the sun, your body absorbs Vitamin D which fills you with calcium, a nutrient essential for building strong bones. Of course, long-term sun exposure can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, so make sure to wear sunscreen.
• Relieve Stress– When we experience long-term stress, it can have a powerfully negative effect on our health. Stress can cause depression, heart problems and cognitive decline. Gardening can provide a sense of control, confidence and pride as you watch a plant grow from seed.
• Decrease Risk of Dementia– Working in the garden can provide a lot of sensory stimulation, which can help reduce the progression of dementia. In fact, a study found that spending time each day in a garden working with plants has the potential to reduce the likelihood of dementia by up to 36 percent.
• Helps Fight Loneliness– Isolation can be dangerous to our health, especially for older adults. Community gardens provide the opportunity for socialization and finding common ground with others in our neighborhood or senior living community.
Gardening in Small Spaces
While gardening has many health benefits, you might be discouraged by your lack of space, especially if you live in an apartment building. However, as many people migrated into the city, new ways of urban gardening became popular. If you live in a small space, don’t have access to a community garden, or are more comfortable with gardening inside, here are some great options:
Windowsill Gardening– You don’t have to have a large garden to reap the benefits of being around plants. If you have a window, you can garden! Herbs do especially well inside if they get enough sunlight. A small container will allow you to grow basil, cilantro, rosemary and thyme among others. If you’re more interested in growing vegetables, you might consider getting slightly larger containers for carrots, onions, hot peppers and lettuce.
Vertical Gardens– The problem with traditional outdoor gardening is that it requires a lot of space that most apartments don’t provide. If you have a small yard, you might consider purchasing hanging pots or larger containers that you can put a trellis inside, allowing you to grow your plants up instead of out.
Patio Gardens– Many people who choose to garden on their patios use raised beds. These garden beds are usually deep enough to grow vegetables but don’t require much space. In fact, some raised beds are simple enough to build on your own. You might also consider growing plants that don’t require much space, like tomatoes and peppers.
Indoor Gardens– Indoor gardens are quite simple to start. Begin by choosing a sunny, south facing window to put your container. Fill the shallow container, making sure to poke or drill holes into the bottom. Gently pack in the seeds, mist with water and watch them grow. You might start with easy to grow plants like herbs, spinach, watercress or cabbage.
Staying Safe Outdoors
While gardening can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, it does require some protection and safety precautions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a list of tips to keep in mind the next time you go outside to enjoy your garden.
• Dress Appropriately– The summer sun can be extremely hot and dangerous to your skin. It’s recommended to wear sturdy shoes, long pants and breathable long-sleeve shirts. Make sure to wear gloves to reduce the risk of cuts and irritation. In addition, it’s important to wear a sun hat to protect your skin and eyes from the sun.
• Put Safety First– If you’re working with chemicals and fertilizers, make sure to read the label before using them. Many chemicals can cause unwanted reactions when mixed together. In addition, make sure to be careful with sharp tools. If you’re unsure how to use certain equipment, it’s always a good idea to ask for help before using.
• Know Your Limits– It’s essential to pay attention to signs of heat-related illnesses. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, confusion and nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms, go inside and contact your healthcare provider immediately.
• Stay Hydrated– In general, most older adults struggle with staying hydrated. Its’ important to consume more fluids especially when working outside in the hot weather. Bring a water bottle outdoors and set a timer on your phone or watch to remind you when it’s time for a drink.
• Protect Your Body– Be realistic when it comes to your limitations. If you are at risk of falling, raised beds might be a good option instead of gardening at ground level. If you have arthritis, make sure to purchase tools that are easy to grasp and feel comfortable. As always, contact your medical doctor when you experience any chest and arm pain or dizziness.
Gardening at Maplewood Senior Living.
As summer approaches, our residents at Maplewood Senior Living Communities are busy preparing their gardens. All of our facilities have gardening options for residents. While many have been gardening for most of their lives, there are still many other residents learning to garden for the first time. If you’d like to hear more about our offerings or to schedule a virtual tour, please contact us.