It is recognized worldwide that nature and plants have a soothing and relaxing effect on people. How many find refuge in the woods when they need a moment to rest? A study in a seniors' residence in Finland shows a correlation between general well-being and participation in institutional gardening activities.
Gardening is one of the most common passions among seniors. Food self-sufficiency has been rooted in their values since their early childhood; they saw their parents take care of the garden and they took part in its maintenance and the harvest of vegetables. Many of them have integrated these activities into their daily lives. However, when they arrive in nursing homes, their environment and their expectations are turned upside down.
In residence, everything has been designed to reduce the risk of incidents among seniors. Everything is controlled, which means they have little freedom or power to make decisions for themselves. It's hard to feel useful when you feel you have no power and responsibility. The Finnish study proves that people who participated in gardening activities showed much more joy in their daily lives. The major changes observed in individuals are greater autonomy, a sense of control, and a reaffirmed identity, in addition to an increased sense of belonging to a group that breaks the isolation and frequent loneliness in nursing homes (Stoneham and Thoday, 1996).
Gardening, when considered as an interaction between individuals and plants, can be perceived as a relationship. Horticulture allows individuals to be creative in addition to fostering social interaction and reciprocal exchanges with others. Plants can, by their smell and their appearance, trigger pleasant memories of the past, which comforts the person who is in relation with them. By gardening, the residents can create new memories and give new meaning to their life, while experiencing happy feelings (Browne 1992, Lewis 1996).
Finally, the study stresses that by integrating gardening into everyday life for seniors, they will be able to compare their plants, discuss gardening with other residents, and thereby find a role in their environment. For example, someone with a lot of gardening experience will be consulted by peers for advice on plants, which will strengthen his or her position within the group. Sharing the same passion will help residents understand each other, which makes them feel at home. The more people feel in control of their environment, the more they feel empowered. The feeling of taking care of a living organism, in this case their plants, gives them a sense of purpose and boosts their self-esteem.
This is the perfect opportunity to start organizing gardening activities for your residents.
Source: Erja Rappe and Aino-Maija Evers, "The meaning of growing plants: contribution to the Elderly living in sheltered housing" (2001)