will always be in demand. In recent years, fire pits and resident gardening plots have become ubiquitous. Some communities fos- ter a strong collaboration between residents and culinary staff to grow produce featured in the dining program. Also trending is installation of outdoor

fitness equipment such as that found in many public parks. Devices geared toward the needs of older adults are easy-to-use ways to help maintain strength, mobility, and balance.

In urban areas, rooftop gardens—as op-

posed to green roofs, in which plants cover the entire roof—are growing in popularity. Vertical container gardens give residents a place to grow plants without using a lot of space. Water features on a rooftop can help mask the sounds of the city. Blurring the boundaries between indoors

and out is another trend. “Green walls” are densely planted vertical spaces, often with contrasting plants that create attractive patterns.

And Jack Carman, founder and president

of Design for Generations in Medford, N.J., suggests enhancing such indoor garden spaces with the sounds of waterfalls and chirping birds. Placing plants throughout the buildings will help residents maintain a healthy connection to nature. “People feel good about having plants growing in the environment they’re living in,” Carman said.


Interaction with nature is innately beneficial to human well- being. Studies have shown that being outdoors in a natural setting can help older adults feel more energetic, have less depression, improve their cognition and feel more engaged in life.

Exposure to sunlight permits natural absorption of vitamin D and helps to balance circadian rhythms. One study of memory care residents in California showed that early morning exposure to sunlight improved their moods and reduced discomfort.

Gardens specifically designed to promote wellness are an increasingly popular feature at many senior living communities, providing places for residents, staff, and visitors to find rest and renewal.

Willamette View’s “Harmony Garden,” installed in 2012, is a good example. In a courtyard next to the memory care neighborhood, it includes a variety of plants meant to stimulate the senses, such as aromatic herbs, fuzzy lamb’s ears, bright flowers, and apple trees. The garden is wheelchair and walker accessible and is visible from multiple indoor areas. A figure-eight walkway, water feature, and ample seating make it a popular site for community picnics as well as resident and staff relaxation.

Elements of a Wellness Garden

Certain principles are standard for any garden tailored to older adults, especially those with dementia. The priority is safety. Plant material must be nontoxic and free of thorns. Walkways should be level and clearly defined.

For memory care residents, it’s important to create secure gardens. Walls and gates can be attractive, and their appearance softened with plantings.

Wellness gardens can also contain specific elements for occupational and physical therapy. For instance, raised

Sensory appeal of herb gardens at Foulkeways at Gwynedd, designed by Jack Carman, Design for Generations

planting beds allow accessibility so residents can touch and smell the plants.

The best plants for wellness gardens are those with pleasant aromas and contrasting or colorful foliage and flowers. Adding water features and elements that attract birds and butterflies will make the garden even more appealing.

“Make it feel like it could be your backyard,” says Jack Carman, founder and president of Design for Generations in Medford, N.J. Use familiar types of plants, provide shaded areas, and offer comfortable seating.

Even residents who don’t go outside can enjoy the garden from indoors. Low windows overlooking the garden will allow people to enjoy the view while seated.

Finally, include something for every season. “You want it to look fresh and inviting year-round,” says Eric Drenner, co-founder and partner of E-Landscape Specialty Solutions, in Davidsonville, Md. Adding sculptures, evergreens and bird feeders can make winters as fascinating as summers in the garden.


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