Featuring thoughts from residents Philip and Barbara Keightley
Whether it’s planting an assortment of flowers throughout the year to beautify the yard or sowing seeds in the spring and summer to raise vegetables for dinner, gardening is good for a person’s physical, mental and emotional health.
Gardening requires some strength and stamina, so it’s not unusual for even the most avid of gardeners to take it down a notch or two as they get older. But with the right tools and some close attention (and in some cases maybe a little assistance), octogenarians and their elders can continue to ply their green thumbs.
Planting and tending even a small plot of land is a lot of work. It might not seem as vigorous as swimming or riding a bike, but it will certainly get your heart rate up. If you’re digging, bending over, squatting down, reaching and lifting, it also gives your muscles something extra to do and helps to lubricate your joints.
It’s a good idea to do some stretches before and/or after your gardening session, especially for your back and legs. If you’re going to be pulling weeds or doing a similar repetitive task for an extended period, consider using knee pads or a small stool that you can sit on and move as you need to.
If you’ll be working in the sun, be sure to wear appropriate clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck, as well as sunscreen and sunglasses.
Getting some sun helps your body produce vitamin D and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, memory, sleep, cognition and other vital functions. But for obvious reasons, you don’t want to overdo your sun exposure.
Producing more serotonin isn’t the only way gardening can help you be happier. Being outside in the fresh air while engaging in an activity you enjoy can also reduce your cortisol levels. Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Too much of it can lead to more than a dozen adverse effects, from severe fatigue to high blood pressure.
An activity that can help your body produce more of a chemical that makes you feel good and less of one that makes you feel stressed sure sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
Plus, there’s the satisfaction of seeing your efforts pay off as your flowers bloom or your plants bear homegrown food. What could be better than plucking a sun-ripened tomato from the vine to perk up your salad or sandwich?
Although more empirical evidence is needed, a growing body of research suggests that physical exercise — such as gardening — may help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Garden therapy is also used to engage people who already have mild dementia because it causes them to use multiple senses — sight, smell, touch and, if the plants bear vegetables or fruit, taste.
Tending a garden, or even a potted plant, also involves cognitive processes and motor skills, and it provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment. All of that benefits older adults, whether they have dementia or not.
If you’ve had a vegetable garden or flower gardens in your yard, you may feel anxious at the thought of giving that up to move to a retirement community.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to!
More senior living communities are realizing the many benefits that residents gain from having a garden area for their own use. Here at Emerald Heights, residents have had the opportunity to plant their own garden plots for many years. It’s by far one of the most popular activities!
Philip and Barbara Keightley moved to Emerald Heights about two and a half years ago, just before the pandemic. As longtime residents of the Greater Seattle area, they looked at a number of retirement communities in Washington state before choosing ours.
Barbara has had a keen interest in horticulture for decades, and they’ve had gardens at their homes in Bellevue and the Phoenix area for many years. They started gardening soon after they moved here, beginning with some zucchini plants (which yielded an abundant crop — enough to share with several lucky neighbors).
These days, they (and other residents) grow quite a variety of flowers and vegetables.
“Everyone waits for the rhubarb in the earliest of spring,” Barbara said, “and then, of course, the fresh greens. Now, snap peas and green beans are growing — and tomatoes. Everyone seems to have at least one tomato plant in their plot.”
Barbara noted that some residents grow plants on their patios and balconies, too, and some also use the area adjacent to their patio to add a splash of color with different types of flowers.
“Anything you can imagine the nursery carrying, someone’s growing it here,” she said, noting that a group of residents uses one of the garden plots to grow bonsai trees and shrubs.
As much as they appreciate having the opportunity to continue gardening, they’re even more enthused about another aspect of living at Emerald Heights.
“Although the surroundings are very lovely, it’s the people here that are so important in our lives,” Barbara said.
“What we came here for was this wonderful socialization,” Philip added, noting that the pandemic prevented them from meeting their fellow residents in the customary fashion.
“But it’s opening up again,” he said. “We had a ‘Welcome Aboard’ party recently for people who’ve come to the community in the last two and a half years, and, boy, it was a great occasion!”
Barbara and Philip have a miniature Australian Labradoodle named McDuff, and they mentioned what a wonderful place Emerald Heights is for pet owners.
“Some people here can no longer walk their dogs, and there are volunteers who say, ‘We’ll walk Fido!’ That’s really special,” Barbara said. “We even see strollers with cats in them being pushed around.”
Philip is part of the resident group that maintains the trails at Emerald Heights, and he noted that the trails are ideal for people who want to walk with their four-footed family members.
The gardening activities and the trail committee are just two examples of ways the Keightleys have discovered to meet and get to know other residents in our community. Philip was quick to point out that they’re looking forward to expanding their social circle now that most of the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.
As Barbara put it, “At Emerald Heights we are family.”
If you’re an experienced or prospective gardener (or a nature enthusiast in general), we urge you to come take a look around. We think you’ll appreciate the greenery, from the garden plots to the trails that wind around the community and through the woods at the edge of the property.
We also think you’ll also be impressed by how many opportunities there are to be an active member of the community, and by the people who live here, just like the Keightleys were — and still are.
To experience Emerald Heights firsthand, contact us and we’ll set up your visit!