Immerse yourself in therapeutic gardening for seniors

Is a public health intern at UNC Wilmington with Ability Garden at the NC Cooperative Extension Center for New Hanover County

The smells, the sounds, the general feeling – just being in an environment around plants can have a therapeutic feeling for many of us. The atmosphere can be extremely calming on its own, but when gardening is added to the equation it is taken to a whole new level. Being able to physically touch the soil and plants adds to the therapeutic sensation, creating an unparalleled immediate relaxation.

As an intern at the NC Cooperative Extension – New Hanover County Arboretum and Ability Garden, I have had the pleasure of working in this environment for the past several months. It changed my way of thinking about the effects of gardening. As someone who has an abundance of houseplants and has been told my house looks like a forest, I knew firsthand that being around plants could be therapeutic, but I didn’t. not realized the extent. During my time at the Arboretum, I felt so calm and was in a constant state of relaxation when working, even in the summer heat. All of my worries disappear and I am able to be fully in the present moment.

An example of the end product from one of the Cambridge Village residents.
An example of a Cambridge Village resident's pressed plant bookmark, personalized pot and potted plant.

This is the idea behind therapeutic gardening programs. Be fully present when you participate in these plant-based activities and benefit from them at the time, and even after your departure. Programs focused on promoting this therapeutic environment have started to be implemented around the world for all population groups, some having a greater impact than others. Although the benefits differ for the affected population group, research has shown that this stress-free atmosphere can be beneficial for everyone.

For older people in particular, the gardening environment can have a more lasting impact than just immediate relaxation. Whether they live in a community setting or in a long-term care facility, seniors can enjoy the benefits of gardening wherever they are. Therapeutic gardening promotes socialization, improves brain function and increases the overall quality of life of this population.

Therapeutic gardening has also been shown to be one of the most beneficial non-pharmacological interventions for many diseases or conditions that occur with age, one of which is dementia. Research shows that any level of participation can make a difference for this population, whether it’s daily contact with nature or participation in a therapeutic gardening program.

Plant sales are held the third Saturday of each month at the New Hanover County Arboretum and Ability Garden.

I personally had the pleasure of setting up my own therapeutic gardening program during my internship. Cambridge Village of Wilmington gave me the opportunity to work with their residents and do some activities at their facility. We have created pressed plant bookmarks with plants from the Arboretum, decorated pots to give them a personalized touch and potted a plant that they can take home. Feedback from participants was excellent and they kept asking me when I would come back for other activities. Based on the results of this program and the research I have done, I firmly believe that therapeutic gardening can make a difference in the life of anyone.

To get your therapeutic dose and start enjoying the outdoor atmosphere, visit the New Hanover County Arboretum and Ability Garden. Frequent events are planned, including plant sales every third Saturday of the month. To learn more about the Arboretum and upcoming in-store activities, visit https://arboretum.nhcgov.com/.

Halle Neering

Halle Neering is a public health intern at UNC Wilmington with Ability Garden at the NC Cooperative Extension Center for New Hanover County, located at the Arboretum, 6206 Oleander Drive, Wilmington. Contact her at [email protected] or 910-798-7660. The Arboretum is free and open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

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