JoAnne Skelly: Gardening can greatly improve seniors’ quality of life

If you are a gardener, you appreciate how valuable a connection to the soil and growing things can be. Often as people age, they may find it difficult for any number of reasons to continue to work with soil and plants. They may no longer live in their own home, living instead in an assisted-living or long-term-care facility. A joyful gift for elders in your life may be to provide them with ways they can still be involved with plants.

Some elders were involved with gardening all their lives. Others may benefit from a new interest or hobby. A relationship with plants is an age-old aspect of our human community that can give immense gratification.

Whether we provide the aging people in our lives with tools and raised beds that make outdoor gardening easier, or we offer them opportunities for indoor plant explorations and activities, taking care of plants or being surrounded by greenery and flowers can improve a person’s quality of life.

According to the Eden Alternative™, plants and gardens provide many opportunities to relieve the suffering of loneliness, helplessness and boredom that many people in long-term-care facilities may feel. Experiencing gardening again, even if done indoors, “can revive precious memories of times spent in family gardens.” Some elders may be physically challenged and only be able to watch or help plan what to grow and how to grow it, while others will want to actively play in the soil and with the plants.

Having to care for a living thing can give a person a continued sense of being capable and needed. Younger members of a family can share the activities of planting, growing and appreciating the beauty of a lovely plant with an aging loved one. An added benefit is the fact that plants refresh the air.

Not too much is needed to make growing a success. A window or two with decent light, water, a pretty pot or container, some potting soil, seeds or a healthy plant are the essentials. Then, someone has to water as needed, sometimes pick off dead leaves or flowers, fertilize occasionally and monitor for plant health.

For more information, read “Growing with Care, Using Greenery, Gardens and Nature with Aging and Special Populations” by Betsy Kreidler. If you want to bring nature to a loved one to brighten their life and need assistance selecting plants that will succeed, please contact me at 775-887-2252 or

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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