Why Gardening Is Great for Seniors — and How to Get Started
We all know about the go-to activities that help keep us physically active and healthy, like walking, swimming, and strength training. And it’s not hard to think of ways to stay mentally active. It might be a surprise to learn that gardening — even with indoor plants — has been on both lists this whole time. Turns out, it has a multitude of benefits for everyone — including seniors.
For seniors especially, gardening can have big positive aging effects — helping seniors stay physically and mentally healthy and cultivate a sense of well-being later in life. In 2020, a National Institute of Health study covered a group of older adults with gardens ranging from balcony potted plants to quarter-acre blocks. Those who actively weeded, watered or cut, or even just planned out the next season with magazines or a club — all adding up to approximately 10 hours a week — reported many benefits:
- Physical activity that helps prevent or lessen diseases and conditions like osteoporosis
- New friendships, regular social connections, and support (in community gardening and clubs) that protect against loneliness and isolation
- Feelings of peace, lower stress, relaxation, and a happier mood when gardening
- Better sleep from physical activity
- Sense of purpose and reward
- Senses of pride, accomplishment, and identity connection
- A more positive perception of and attitude to their own aging process
Era Living makes it easy for seniors to tap into these benefits. Most apartments come with balconies for that type of gardening, and communal garden spaces with raised beds are available options for residents. To pave the way for connection and community, University House Wallingford and The Lakeshore run master gardener clubs, including the University House Garden Club, that educate others with presentations and information on plant histories and tending needs.
But what about someone who’s interested in gardening, but has had little to no success so far, or feels intimidated by what they don’t know?
Pacific Northwest’s expert horticulturist Ciscoe Morris understands this hesitation and has some advice on where to start. He recently shared his insight at Era Living’s free gardening workshop at University House Wallingford — which, incidentally, is part of his first suggestion.
Begin by attending a talk or two, or visit the library and take out a few books on general gardening,” he says, “[but] the best way to learn about gardening is to do it! Get the basics down on practical skills [like] watering, mulching, and fertilizing.
You learn from your successes and even more from your mistakes,” he continues. “I always tell people the true garden expert is the person who has murdered the most plants!
Ciscoe speaks from experience — for decades, he’s been generously sharing his gardening expertise through PNW radio and television shows, newspaper columns, books, workshops, and leading garden tours year-round — and sometimes worldwide.
At the UHW workshop on May 18, Ciscoe shared how to entice bees into pollinating your garden (they love the color blue!), as well as plants that attract hummingbirds. He also has a ready suggestion for those unsure of what to try first.
One of the most fun and easy ways to get started with gardening is to plant up a few containers,” he says. [Residents may be able to do this in the communal garden spaces or with small containers on balconies.] “It’s just like designing a garden, but you do it in a pot, and there’s less weeding involved. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
For those wanting to start with simpler houseplants, there are plenty of benefits and options there. Plants can help clear out common toxins and pollutants in the air, like benzene, acetone, and formaldehyde. And having living greenery indoors has been shown to help increase the sense of well-being in hospital patients, lower stress levels, help us feel calm, and increase productivity.
Ciscoe names African violets and anthuriums (flamingo flowers) as two of his favorite Seattle-area houseplants because they’re easy to grow and flower practically nonstop. The easiest houseplant in low light, he says, is the dracaena (also a hardworking air-cleaner).
A few other low-maintenance houseplants that can make your space calming and beautiful:
- Snake plant
- Aloe (with the bonus benefit of natural burn remedy)
- Holiday cactus
Ciscoe also is a strong believer in the social and mental benefits of gardening. “What I love most about gardening is sharing ideas and stories with other gardeners,” he says. “Best of all, you never stop learning and being surprised.”
Whatever their experience, Era Living residents can join one of our several garden parties coming up in the summer months, hosted within our communities. And you can catch more of Ciscoe and ask him questions at our Gardening Workshop hosted at The Lakeshore on June 1. (He also has a wealth of tips on his website, Ciscoe.com, and on his weekly radio show.) Visit our Upcoming Events page to find information on all these events and to RSVP. You’ll start to reap those gardening benefits sooner than you think!