“The pleasure you get from gardening far outweighs any difficulties as you get older,” says seasoned gardener and horticulturalist, Jane Edmanson.
She’s calling for WYZA readers to get gardening to benefit their mental and physical health. When older people garden, it helps promote their overall health and quality of life, including physical strength, fitness and flexibility, cognitive ability, and socialisation, according to a study in the journal, Activities Adaptations and Ageing. In short, it’s therapy and recreation.
Gardening for the third age
Edmanson, 67, says, “My garden connects me to nature and the seasons … to the bees, butterflies, and birds. But you don’t have to do anything practical such as weeding or digging — just being in the garden and being aware of the senses is beneficial. If I had a few days without going into a garden, my life wouldn’t be complete.”
Gardening is part of her exercise routine, which includes bushwalking, swimming, and pilates. She’s been involved in horticulture for more than 40 years, has owned and managed a retail nursery, and written or co-authored five gardening books.
“I like getting my hands dirty, touching the soil. My worm farm is the thing I love as it makes me feel part of the earth, of this whole world. It’s all about appreciating nature and trying to do your little bit in cultivating your own patch.
Jean Edmanson says age should be no barrier to the benefits of gardening
“If you’re older, you do have to be aware gardening’s not an easy thing to do. Your knees and back can get creaky, and sometimes you’re lifting 16kg of potting mix, or big pots, but most of the things to do with gardening are really rewarding,” she says.
Know the risks
Reduce your risk of injury by stretching beforehand to warm up, even if it’s going for a short walk. To be kinder to your knees, take a cushion to kneel on in the garden, or invest in a kneeling aid with handles to ease yourself out of the kneeling position. Consider raised garden beds, vertical planting along walls — or trellises or adaptive tools if you have mobility issues.
Edmanson knows active gardeners in their late 80s and 90s, who might no longer mow their own lawn, but still have a green thumb.
“A lady I know, Jean, is 97. She has a lovely garden with plenty of veggies. Recently, she had a fall — tripped over something near the hose. It was pretty bad, but now she’s better after some time in hospital and back in the garden.”
Edmanson says it’s hard to say if you can rely on gardening to keep fit as some people spend hours and others just a few minutes. They may be doing different tasks, using different muscles, and have different energy levels.
Herbs for starters
For the novice late-entrant to gardening, Edmanson suggests starting with herbs as they’re some of the easiest plants to grow. Try growing easy herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, sorrel, and mint.
“I tell everyone to grow lemon verbena because it’s fragrant, looks lovely, and it’s useful as a tea or in cooking. I have lots of herbs in my garden, and their fragrance and taste in my cooking takes me to another part of the world.”
Know your limits
Don’t feel limited if you live in a flat with only a balcony for your garden. An Australian Institute study found most non-gardeners said a lack of suitable space and time was stopping them from growing their own food.
“This barrier is more perceived than real,” said the report, which mentioned alternatives such as community gardens, and shared spaces in retirement villages and nursing homes, for example. It also found gardeners aged 65+ reported health benefits from regular movement.
Even indoor plants are beneficial, says Edmanson. “They’re good for your soul. They add a bit of greenery and you’re touching something real — living — and you have to be responsible for it.”
“Whether you’re a gung-ho gardener or take things at a slower place, take the time to sit, listen, and watch to see how the world’s going in your garden,” she says.
For more info:
Jane Edmanson has been a presenter on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia since its inception 29 years ago. The show screens Fridays at 7.30pm on ABC and ABC iView.
How have you adapted to gardening as you get older?