The King’s Fund charity was commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme in 2015 to research the links between gardens, gardening and health. The final report clearly demonstrates how gardening can make a strong contribution to keeping us fit, well and independent in our later years.
The increase in exposure to green spaces has been strongly linked to long-term reductions in heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions, as well as reduced levels of obesity. The associated higher physical activity also linking to improved mental wellbeing.
As we get older, our relationship with gardens and gardening changes. Surveys suggest they become much more important to us as a source of physical activity, but also help to prevent loneliness and isolation.
Gardening may also be important in falls prevention by helping to maintain good gait and balance, as well as helping to prevent dementia and cognitive decline.
The effects of having gardens in care homes and hospices has been well researched, particularly in relation to dementia care, and it has been found that exposure to gardens reduces agitation, aggression and other symptoms.
Lack of green space and fewer people with access to gardens are two reasons behind the increasing demand for allotments. There have been debates about whether they should be sub-divided to allow more people to grow their own food. Sales of vegetable seeds are now exceeding those of flower seeds in the United Kingdom for the first time since the Second World War; accounting for almost 80 per cent of sales of seeds and plants now.
Findings suggested that benefits to mood, self-esteem and other indicators of wellbeing improved significantly for allotment gardeners. Local authorities cannot keep up with the demand for allotments with hundreds currently on waiting lists.
The word paradise comes from the ancient Persian, meaning ‘enclosed gardens’ or ‘orchards’ and for many this sums up their view of the garden. There are many reasons for engaging in this interest as we age:
- mental health benefits
- growing fresh fruit and vegetables
- something to care for
- connection to others
- learning something new
- ‘helping each other out’
However, not all is rosy in the garden, particularly for elderly people. Studies have shown that gardeners often suffer lower back pain. While gardens can confer many benefits on physical health, they can also become problematic under some circumstances. For instance, for older adults, taking care of gardens can be ‘a considerable practical burden and was something that bothered old people’s minds’.
There are schemes in the United Kingdom to link older people who need help with their garden with volunteer gardeners who would like more growing space to garden-share and grow together.
The aim of this and similar schemes is twofold: to enable older people with gardens to remain involved by planning what to grow and gardening with the volunteer. Also to enable older people to stay in their homes for longer, retain their independence and increase their social contact.
This scheme matches garden owners over the age of 60 with volunteers who wish to tend a garden regularly. The ‘partners’ form a team to plan a garden’s development and share any fruit or vegetables grown. There are many benefits to this arrangement and some areas have set up their own schemes.
Edinburgh Garden Partners have a well organised enterprise and more information is on their website www.edinburghgardenpartners.org.uk or call 0131 220 5067.
Age UK in Wandsworth run a partnership for garden sharing and they can be contacted on 020 8877 8940 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there is no particular scheme in your area it may be worth contacting the local allotment group or even advertising for a partner on a local website such as www.streetlife.com. Alternatively, make enquiries in your local library, ask your neighbours, or local gardening clubs. As long as you ensure all partners are happy with the arrangement you can make the most of available growing space.
Do you share your garden or would you like to come to such an arrangement to do so? If so we’d really like to hear from you.