As we welcome the warmer weather, kicking off our Oomph! Nature workshop and some fantastic summer trips, we get expert advice from Nicky Roeber, Online Horticultural Expert at Wyevale Garden Centres – one of our popular trip destinations – on designing a garden for those living with dementia.
Gardening can be great for the mind and body. Just being outdoors brings great benefits on our health. And, for those living with dementia, gardening can be hugely beneficial for keeping the brain active. It can help create a routine, stimulate the mind and the senses, and provide a great feeling of purpose. But planning a garden for those living with the condition can be slightly different to designing your usual plot at home, and there are some extra considerations you’ll need to make. Below, you’ll find my expert advice on how you can create a garden that those living with dementia can enjoy.
Make it safe and accessible
Make sure that the garden is kept secure, with high fences and locked gates to ensure that it is a safe space. You can grow climbing plants like wisteria, honeysuckle or English ivy along these surfaces to make the space bright, beautiful and less intimidating.
Pathways and surfaces should be non-slip to reduce the risk of injury from falling. You should also keep these surfaces all one colour where possible, as contrasting flooring can look like steps to those living with dementia, which can be another safety hazard.
Try to keep pathways wide enough for wheelchairs and for at least two people to walk side-by-side. You should plan to avoid steps where you can. As a more accessible alternative, you can use ramps with a gentle incline. You could also place signs along paths and pavements to make the garden easier to navigate.
For older people, especially those living with dementia, certain activities and movements can be more difficult, which means bending down to plant seeds and to weed may not be as easy. Raising flowerbeds and vegetable patches from the ground means they can still do their usual garden activities from standing height.
When choosing plants, make sure to avoid those that could be harmful if eaten. It’s also best to stay away from any prickly or pointy species that could hurt someone if they were to hold them.
Attract local wildlife
Having animals like birds nearby can improve mood and have a calming effect on those living with dementia (Care UK). Try to design your garden to attract more local wildlife like bees, butterflies, birds and even hedgehogs.
You can easily add some bird baths and bird feeders to the garden to attract more feathered friends, but you can bring a whole range of wildlife to the space by picking the right plants. Trees are great nesting places for birds, and fruit trees have an added benefit of providing sweet produce, too.
Pick low lying plants, shrubs and hedgerows to give hedgehogs a cosy nesting place. Then, pick flowers that are rich in pollen, like lavender and sunflowers, to attract bees and butterflies.
Create a sensory experience
For those living with dementia, sensory experiences can help keep the brain active, so try growing plants that can stimulate their sense of touch, sound, smell, taste and sight. These include:
- Touch: I’ve previously mentioned that you should try to avoid thorny plants, but there are so many other species that can add a more tactile element to the space. The soft leaves of lamb’s ear feel silky when rubbed, which can have a great calming effect.
- Sound: Attracting wildlife can add some great sounds to the garden, like soothing birdsong and gentle buzzing. But, bamboo and tall grasses, like greater quaking grass, can provide some interesting sounds when moved by a light breeze.
- Smell: I’ve already mentioned that lavender can be great for attracting bees and butterflies, but its delicate scent can really help to relax the mind.
- Taste: Herbs like rosemary, thyme and mint might all carry some lovely scents in the breeze, and are completely edible, too! And don’t forget about fruit bushes and trees, which can grow some tasty produce for everyone to enjoy. Just make sure you choose varieties that are safe to eat, as those living with dementia may not be able to differentiate between edible berries and those that could be dangerous. It’s also best to stay away from fruits that can cause a choking hazard, such as cherries.
- Sight: Growing a mixture of plants can really help to stimulate the senses, so try to pick contrasting coloured petals and plants with bright leaves.
By following these few tips, you can easily create a safe and stimulating garden for everyone to enjoy.