How gardening helps older people

The benefits of gardening for older people

Although gardening can be enjoyed by people of all ages, it is well known as a popular pastime for older adults, and there are a number of benefits for those with green fingers. Here, we are exploring why gardening can be beneficial for older adults, some tips and ideas for how older people can enjoy their garden, gardening hazards to watch out for, how to get help with the garden, and how a carer will (and won’t) support you with garden maintenance.

At Home Instead, our aim is to help people age positively and in place by bringing expert care to their home. For nearly 20 years, we have been providing the highest standard of care, and creating industry-leading training programmes for our Care Professionals that are accredited by nursing and medical professionals. Today, we are the world’s largest global domiciliary care network, supporting over 100,000 older adults with personalised, tailored care at home. So whatever questions you have about home help and companionship, we can help. 

What do we mean by gardening? 

Gardening is more than just tending to plants by watering or pruning. It might involve different tasks depending on what is in the garden, such as sowing seeds, keeping soil healthy and fertile, getting rid of weeds, managing pests, mowing the lawn, picking fresh fruits or vegetables, and more – many gardening activities are physical in nature, so it is important for older adults to be careful when undertaking gardening tasks. 

Gardening can foster patience for people of all ages, as it takes time to see the fruits of your labour, and can also lead to feelings of accomplishment, pride and purpose. According to Gardeners’ World magazine, some beginner-friendly ways to look after your garden include watering plants regularly, feeding plants with plant food, pruning and removing any dead heads, and trimming any bushes surrounding the property. 

A caregiver and an elderly person plant flowers together outdoors, both smiling and enjoying the activity. - Home Instead

How does gardening benefit older people? 

Research shows older adults spend more of their leisure time gardening than any other age group, so it is clear that pleasure is the primary benefit of gardening for older people. In addition to the general enjoyment experienced when gardening, older people can also find benefits such as:

Enhanced physical health

According to the British Psychological Society,  30 minutes of daily exercise is sufficient. They even suggest “avid gardeners can easily exert the same amount of energy as running or going to the gym”. This means just a small amount of gardening done daily can have a number of physical benefits. 

These could include improved mobility and strength, increased vitamin D production (important for bone health), improved nutrition through the growing of fruits and vegetables, and according to studies, improved weight loss, reduced waist circumference, reduced cortisol levels, and improved flexibility. 

Research from the University of Roehampton has also concluded that gardening can promote bone health and reduce falls in older adults, which in itself is a great reason to take up gardening.

Enhanced mental health and wellbeing

Mental health concerns and loneliness can be a problem for older adults, so taking up activities that can help to conquer this is always a positive move. Gardening is thought to help combat feelings of isolation and depression, while also stimulating cognitive function, sharpening memory and improving problem-solving skills. 

The British Psychological Society suggests gardening activities can have a positive impact on wellbeing and mental health, and can improve life satisfaction, vigour, and positive affect. It is also thought to reduce feelings of stress, anger, fatigue, depression and anxiety. Studiesconfirm gardening has the ability to improve mental wellbeing and quality of life in older adults, while further studieshave found more frequent gardening (around 2 or 3 times a week) produced reductions in perceived stress. 

By tending to the natural areas of one’s garden and creating spaces for wildlife and foliage to thrive, older adults can develop a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which can boost their self-esteem and quality of life. This can be done by helping flowers and trees to flourish, or supporting the ecosystem of wildlife in your garden by creating things like hedgehog homes and bee hotels.

Improved social experiences

Gardening can often become a social experience as it leads to conversations with neighbours and people passing by your home, as well as conversations with strangers who admire your garden. You could also get involved in local gardening clubs, speak to people tending to nearby allotments, and chat to staff at local garden centres about the tools, seeds and resources you need to achieve certain aesthetic goals within your garden. Overall, there are many ways gardening can be both intentionally and spontaneously social.

What are some ways older people can enjoy their garden? 

Surprisingly, researchhas discovered that many of the restorative and physical benefits of gardening can be enjoyed while simply spending time in the garden, regardless of the activities being done there. Subjects reported more social and physical benefits than the control group, and this experience was had regardless of whether subjects were doing things in their garden or simply being in the garden – the important factor seemed to be being around nature. 

It is clear that there are so many activities older people can enjoy in their garden and reap benefits from, regardless of their physical and mental abilities. Here are a few things you may wish to try: 

  • Take a leisurely walk around your garden 
  • Obtain a book on plants from the library and try to identify any new flowers or weeds
  • Create a comfortable seating area to enjoy the garden in, where you can chat to neighbours, read a book, or simply admire the plants 
  • Do a morning meditation in the garden 
  • Tend to potted plants and help them grow over time 
  • Cultivate a small vegetable garden that you can eventually use to prepare meals  
  • Regularly fill bird feeders and baths to attract wildlife
  • Try hobbies such as photography or painting to capture the beauty of your garden 
  • Enjoy a BBQ with family members

If you would like to ensure your garden can be easily managed as you grow older, the Royal Horticultural Societyhas several ideas that could help with this, including: 

  • Removing your lawn and opting for a low-maintenance patio or decking so you do not need to regularly cut your grass or pay for its upkeep
  • Opting for larger pots rather than smaller ones, as these will not dry out as quickly, and are known to be easier to look after 
  • Keeping your gardening activities simple by choosing long-lasting shrubs and evergreen plants that do not require too much watering 
  • Using mulches (such as bark chippings or gravel) to cover bare spots between plants, which should mean less watering and weeding 
Two people are gardening together; one pours soil into a pot while the other holds a watering can. - Home Instead

What garden hazards should older people be mindful of? 

Although there are many physical and mental health benefits to gardening, there are also a lot of risks that older people need to be aware of. These include: 

  • Uneven terrain and the use of gardening tools, both of which can cause trip hazards for older people, particularly if they have mobility issues. Whether or not this is something you are worried about, be on the safe side by using mobility aids such as a walking frame or stick for balance and support while gardening, and taking extra care when moving around. 
  • Gardening tools can be sharp, so it is important to handle them with care to avoid any accidents. 
  • Being in the garden for a long time can cause increased exposure to sunlight and UVA/UVB rays, so older adults should wear appropriate sunscreen coverage to avoid sun burns or long-term skin damage. 
  • Gardening in hot weather also comes with a risk of heat exhaustion, so it is important for older adults to stay hydrated and wear adequate coverage such as a sun hat and sunglasses. Similarly, avoid going out in very cold weather without appropriate coverage, such as woolly hats, scarfs and gloves. 
  • Gardening may involve bending down, reaching up, lifting and kneeling to access certain areas. This can be helpful for physical health, but older adults should be mindful of how much physical exertion they are undertaking each day to avoid strained muscles or joints. Pace yourself while gardening, take plenty of breaks, and if you need to access a difficult area, always ask a friend or family member to help. 

Gardens are full of insects, so take precautions (particularly in summer) to avoid insect bites or stings by safely applying bug repellent regularly.

Where can an older person receive help with maintaining their garden?

For older people who enjoy tending to their own garden, this will be an enjoyable activity that they will not want to outsource to someone else. However, as they age, looking after the garden can become more difficult, particularly if they experience mobility issues. 

If there are elements of gardening you or your loved one can no longer manage alone, there may be options to help maintain this. Look into local community organisations that offer gardening assistance through volunteer work, ask friends or family members for their help, or hire a professional gardener or landscaper to take on the more physically demanding gardening activities. 

Remember, many older people in the UK are eligible for Attendance Allowance, which could help to support them with home maintenance such as cleaning and gardening. As an example, you could use your attendance allowance to hire a gardener to cut the grass, as well as help with any other challenging aspects of this while you focus on manageable and enjoyable elements of gardening like watering flowers and filling bird feeders. 

You could also find out what elements of gardening a professional home carer may be able to help you with. 

What gardening support will a home carer offer (and not offer)? 

Professional home carers will not usually assist with things like heavy lifting or strenuous activities like mowing the lawn, however they could support you in maintaining the garden yourself, help you hire and manage the services of professional gardeners to take on the more physically demanding aspects, accompany you on trips to the garden centre to pick up supplies, and more. 

You should always check with the agency supplying your home carer, or with them directly, to ensure you are both on the same page about what sort of tasks they will help with. For example, if you have brought in a home carer to help with your personal care (such as getting washed and dressed in the morning) or someone to provide live-in care then they may be open to helping you walk out into the garden to read a book, watering plants for you, or making the garden safer through home adaptations. However, they will likely refuse to help with weeding or moving heavy items around the garden as this is not part of their job. 

At Home Instead, we aim to ensure you get the services you need, so if you would like to discuss what elements of care, home help and gardening our Care Professionals may be able to assist you with, feel free to reach out to your friendly local office to learn more.

You may also find some of our other guides helpful:

We’re an award-winning home care provider and part of a worldwide organisation devoted to providing the highest-quality relationship-led care for older people in their own homes. Arranging care for yourself or your loved one shouldn’t be stressful, so whatever questions you would like answered, feel free to reach out to the Home Instead team to discuss your needs.