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Gardens Brighten Seniors' Lives

Seniors have given up child rearing, so gardening gives them baby plants and seedlings again. It's a new way of caring for something.
Seniors have given up child rearing, so gardening gives them baby plants and seedlings again. It's a new way of caring for something.

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March 11, 2011

Rebecca's Garden star and Home Instead Senior Care make gardening fun for older adults

Rebecca Kolls, host of the nationally syndicated television show Rebecca's Garden, and the Home Instead Senior Care® network have worked together to help seniors continue to enjoy gardening.

This dual-effort public-education program has sought to bring back gardening joys to seniors who have difficulty maintaining gardens, or who have given up gardening altogether due to health or age concerns.

Kolls, whose grandparents originally inspired her interest in gardening, credits gardens with supplying not only food and beauty, but also improved mental and physical well-being.

"There's a nurturing aspect in gardening where you take a seed and coddle it," said Kolls, who has launched a national magazine Seasons by Rebecca, and is a gardening and lifestyles contributor to Good Morning America. "Seniors have given up child rearing, so gardening gives them baby plants and seedlings again. It's a new way of caring for something."

Home Instead Senior Care's CAREGiversSM – who go to the homes of older individuals and assist them with day-to-day, non-medical activities of daily living such as errands, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and hobbies – can see first-hand how valuable gardening is for their clients.

"We often hear our CAREGivers speak of their clients who love to care for plants and flowers, and how they see it enriching those clients' lives," said Jeff Huber, president and Chief Operating Officer of the Home Instead Senior Care network. "Many of our CAREGivers enjoy gardening as well, and are thrilled to help seniors enjoy gardening and plant projects."

Home Instead Senior Care strives to match its CAREGivers with clients of similar interests. This allows them to build relationships through doing the things their clients enjoy most. And the company's Activity Training Guide for CAREGivers helps them generate other creative ideas to keep seniors engaged and enjoying life.

"Our CAREGivers not only garden, but participate in other activities their clients enjoy, such as cooking, scrapbooking, arts and crafts, and attending performances and other cultural events," Huber said. "We like to involve our clients as much as we can in the interests they've always enjoyed."

Another great thing about gardening as a senior activity is that it is timeless. "The beauty of the garden, if done well, will provide four seasons of color. While seniors in warmer climates can garden year-round, those in cold-weather climates should not despair," Kolls said. "In the winter, snow catches in seed heads, and birds find refuge in shrubbery and feed off seeds from the cone flowers. So no matter where you live, there's always something growing in the garden."

One Container; Many Opportunities

A little creative thinking and some assistance from families or caregivers help ensure that seniors can continue to enjoy the types of gardening they love. "Imagine growing almost everything for a recipe in one container," Kolls said. "What a great gift idea!"

She suggests the following projects to get you started:

  • Try a pizza garden! (If your senior isn't a pizza fan, he or she might enjoy growing one for grandchildren.) Whiskey barrels work well for growing tomatoes, but can be expensive. A plastic laundry basket with holes cut in the bottom for drainage will work just as well. Plant a Roma tomato in the center, onions along the sides of the tomato and basil around the edge of the container.
  • A twist on the pizza garden concept: a fresh salsa garden! It's similar to a pizza garden, only with tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and cilantro.
  • A one-pot vegetable garden is always a hit! Take three bamboo poles and make a teepee in the center of the pot. Plant beans at the base of each bamboo pole, and fill the horizontal space around the pot with carrots, beets or other favorite root vegetables (make sure your pot is at least 10 to 12 inches deep.)

Rebecca's Senior Gardening Tips

Check out these handy tidbits on how to help the seniors achieve gardening success:

  • Herbs grow anywhere and are great for seasoning. Kitchen herb gardens are wonderful for seniors. The more you pinch and pick the herbs, such as basil, parsley and chives, the more vigorous they grow.
  • Think height, filler and spiller. When you're creating flowerpots, consider height, filler and spiller. Plant a variety that will grow at least twice as tall as the container; fill in with plants that will grow to no more than half of the height of the taller plants, and then plant a variety that will cascade over the pot.
  • When it comes to annuals, pack them in. When you create flowerpots, pack your annuals in because they will become root-bound and grow up and over the pots. You'll get drama and a beautiful arrangement, according to Kolls.
  • Look for equipment that can make the job easier. There are many wonderful tools available that can make gardening easier for anyone including seniors. According to Kolls, Bud-Eze tools, which can be found on the Internet, are a good option, as are bionic gloves. In addition, the Arthritis Foundation has a product and services directory for senior gardeners and others with mobility problems: log on to
  • Garden right outside your front door or back door. Container gardening allows seniors access to flowers or vegetables in one pot and also gives them the height that helps make gardening easier for them.
  • Team with others to garden. If a senior can't garden anymore, enlist the help of others who might enjoy sharing the work and the produce or flowers from the garden. Or, call Home Instead Senior Care to find a CAREGiver who would enjoy gardening with that person. Log on to to find the closest office to you or your senior loved one.

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