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Shaping Landscapes

Not all care facilities come with a serene garden that is ready to relax in. Tomorrow’s Care asked landscape architect, Dan Willis, how care homes can craft their grounds to provide residents with an invigorating outdoor space.

Countless studies by health organisations and universities have shown that spending time outdoors can significantly improve physical health and mental wellbeing for people of all ages. For older people living in care homes, being able to access outdoor space offers a sense of freedom that can boost both independence and engagement with the wider world.

As a specialist in creating gardens for all kinds of uses, landscape architect and owner of Living Concepts, Dan Willis, explained the best way to approach outdoor spaces for care homes:

“You need to utilise key spaces and environments within the garden to encourage positive mental connections, a range of different spaces can achieve a stimulating space that is satisfying and contributes to mental wellbeing. Move away from large areas of empty space and lawns, and create circulation and a route through the garden with pockets of peace and quiet where people can relax, rest or sit down.”

With the variety of complex health problems that many care home residents have, it is crucial that gardens are accessible to everyone. Dan highlighted the importance of always including ramps and lifts where ground level changes dramatically. He added: “Any large drops or level changes are discouraged where possible. Instead, gentle changes in gradient should shape the garden.”

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Potential hazards like steps should also be clearly marked with lighting or corduroy paving, ensuring that people with impaired vision can navigate the garden as safely as possible. For those who feel compelled to wander – a common sign of dementia – safety measures should be incorporated into the garden design. Handrails, soft flooring and clear perimeter fencing can aid walking for long periods of time and keep people safely within the home’s grounds. Paths should be clear of any low lying obstacles and shaped to avoid sharp edges and corners.

As memory fades in old age, and especially as a result of dementia, the senses become more important when it comes to interacting with the environment. This observation has led to the rise of ‘sensory gardens’, which encourage people to touch, taste and smell the natural world.

“The sensory garden is now a firm part of a garden designer’s repertoire. They offer the user the chance to reach out and touch and feel aspects of the garden, get instantly hit by scents and aromas or pick a berry to taste,” says Dan.

A major aspect of sensory gardens is circulation. Dan emphasised that people should be able to move easily around the garden while all of their senses are stimulated by different elements.

“Sensory design calls for extra effort to make sure all experiences are in reach. A tree that is deliberately planted next to a path or sitting area

becomes an object to touch – its bark becomes an experience and memory.

“Plants, water features and sculptures within the garden have to be close to the circulatory route or pathway, even wheelchair users should be easily able to explore up close. This is vital for every user – whether old, young, or those with sensory impairments.”

Colour is another crucial element in any garden. As Dan pointed out, it’s not only plants that splash new colours around as the seasons change: “The introduction of water bodies in the garden (providing they are safe) can also stimulate colour and views within a space, from picking up the reflection of the blue sky, to the clouds that drift by overhead and create interesting patterns in the water.”

For those residents who are able, gardening offers an enjoyable way to get some exercise and contribute to the home. “In care homes the upkeep of allotments and vegetable patches can create a great sense of community and establish friendships. The user can not only dedicate their time to the allotments, but they can also eat the vegetables they have looked after.”

The great outdoors is there for everyone to take pleasure in. It’s up to care homes to ensure the outdoor space at their facility is ready for its residents enjoy.

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