Green thumbs celebrated during National Gardening Week

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Throughout National Gardening Week (11-17 October), we shared stories from some of the many people living with dementia who find gardening an enjoyable and therapeutic past time, and some tips on how to make gardens dementia-friendly and accessible.  

Shared on our social media channels, including facebook, Instagram, twitter and linkedin, the stories were designed to inspire people living with dementia, families, carers and aged care professionals, to keep the love of gardening alive and gardens to be more accessible for people living with dementia.  

Dementia-friendly gardens can deliver physical, emotional and psychological benefits for people living with dementia, with fine motor skills encouraged, memories stimulated and cognition improved. For carers, they can be a peaceful place of respite. 

Mithrani, a Dementia Australia Dementia Advocate and person living with dementia, says getting her green thumb working in the garden was critical for her. 

“I love gardening, as a child it showed me nature’s beauty. Now that I have dementia, the garden which my children and I created gives me so much happiness and peace. I love to hear the birds sing and I talk to them also. It’s also very positive to be able to see the flowers in bloom. Nature is very healing and I love that I can see the sun rise and set ..and nature loves it as much as I do.” 

Dementia Australia Dementia Advocate Bronte, whose wife Glenda lives with younger onset dementia, suggested keeping as many of the senses engaged as possible.  

Because of her functional blindness, Glenda can only see splashes of colour from flowers but her sense of smell has remained and is now more important than ever before. 

Before Glenda entered care, she would visit public sensory gardens with Bronte. Today, friends and family bring flowers to Glenda including her favourite red rose “Mr Lincoln” which has a powerful and intoxicating perfume. 

Bronte’s tips for others are: 

  • You don’t need to establish new gardens in many cases, you can just adapt them. 

  • choose plants that accentuate colour, perfume, leaf texture and taste (when edible), as well as having suitable physical access to accommodate to a range of mobility issues. 

Dementia Advocate Denise also has some tips to share. Denise’s husband Barry has always been an avid gardener and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease has in no way diminished this love or his daily activities in the garden. 

With some minor modifications and support from wife Denise, Barry is able to continue looking after his beloved succulents and roses. 

Denise suggests:  

  • Purchase a solid kneeler/seat to make it easier around low gardens 

  • let the person with dementia enjoy their garden. If they are unable to do the work themselves ensure that when someone comes to do the gardening that the owner is still involved in decision making (where possible).  

  • Have vases of flowers in the home, especially if they are grown from their garden and ask the person with dementia to help plant similar ones and let them choose what plant goes where.  

Peter Swindell, a Dementia Australia Dementia Advocate, has been the driving force behind the development of a dementia-friendly garden at his local aged care facility. He was supported by Dementia Advocate, Keith Davies, whose wife Bev lives in the aged care facility. 

Inspired by the Dementia Australia gardens in Sydney and Port Macquarie, and information from the Dementia Australia library, Peter and Keith worked with the aged care provider to create a garden that is used daily and benefits people living with dementia, their families and carers.  

They placed pots and garden beds full of fragrant plants at an appropriate height for people with reduced mobility. 

There were also some helpful hints from the team at DIGnity Supported Community Gardening, which is a joint initiative between the University of Tasmania’s Centre for Rural Health and three neighbourhood houses and gardens in the South East of Tasmania. With support from Dementia Australia’s Community Engagement Program, DIGnity has put together a guide for other community gardens on how to become more dementia-friendly. 

Tips in the Companion Planting Guide include how to create a casual and friendly garden, how to make the space accessible, safe and comfortable for everyone, and suggestions for different types of activities for participants to do during their visit. 

For more information on the Companion Planting Guide, visit https://www.tha.org.au/dignity-planting-guide/ 

For more helpful advice and support, please call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or visit www.dementia.org.au. We are here to support people impacted by dementia, and to enable them to live as well as possible.