We’re creating more ways for older people to keep on gardening. Read on to find out how Garden Buddies has brought people together and made a difference to their social, mental, and physical wellbeing!
"I just love coming to the garden for a cup of tea and a chat"
Garden Buddies is a community gardening project which helps older people to keep on gardening, and enjoying the positive effects that come along with it. As we get older, our relationship with gardens and gardening changes – with research suggesting it becomes even more important for wellbeing.
The project has grown since 2018 to include intergenerational gardening with school kids, learning from a dementia friendly garden to help make local community gardens more dementia friendly, and sharing tips on ways to keep well and meet people through gardening. In the safe, non-judgmental space of Garden Buddies, everyone can co-operate and work to their strengths – there is always something to do when there’s a garden!
"I love it when the young ones come to the centre – it makes me feel young again!"
We’re crowdfunding so we can deliver user-friendly printed Tips to help older people stay involved in gardening. Garden Buddies has gained a lot of knowledge about inclusive community gardening, so the next step is to share it!
With your support we will be able to create:
- Tips for older people who want to keep gardening. This will be a professionally designed set of printed Inclusive Gardening tips, sharing people’s suggestions and experiences as well as bringing in advice from experts.
- Tips on supporting older people to keep gardening. This will show groups and professionals how they can support the people they know to keep enjoying gardening.
- A set of short ‘how-to’ tips videos.
- We’ll also be able to buy some bulbs and herbs for our Garden Buddies groups to use this Spring!
Why it's a great idea:
The people we have been working with have been saying how it can get harder as health problems limit what they do. Some people give up at this point. But others have found practical ways to get round the difficulties. Our tips would help us share the ideas and suggestions older people and groups have shared with us.
Garden Buddies began back in spring 2018 with Peebles Community Action Network (CAN) a community growing project with lots of space and, at the time, not much funding to pay workers. It is in the grounds of Victoria Park Day Centre, a facility for people living with dementia and those with learning difficulties. We spoke to all the users of the building and began to work in the garden with some of the people living with dementia and with the staff. Sometimes the people with learning disabilities joined in too. The benefits of being in the outdoors and connecting with nature soon became apparent, and even when the weather was poor we were able to carry on with gardening-related activities indoors.
After a year we made connections with Community Learning and Development who were working with local school pupils – soon the pupils were joining in too, providing extra muscle power. The intergenerational nature of the project means everyone can work to their strengths, and young and old share skills and knowledge in a safe, unjudgmental space.
"I love it when the young ones come to the centre – it makes me feel young again!"
After a visit to a dementia friendly garden in Dunbartonshire, Garden Buddies started to work with a few of the community gardens in the local area to help them become more dementia friendly. We did this by contacting the local Community Justice Community Order Payback team who were able to build us some raised beds and make paths a little more even and less of a trip hazard. We also provided more sturdy garden furniture to replace the lightweight plastic furniture that could topple easily. With our help the gardens were able to produce a leaflet containing information about all the gardens in the area that they could give to doctors' surgeries, citizens advice etc.
"This is a beneficial relationship for everyone involved and shows how community gardening can bring people of all ages and backgrounds together. We are hugely grateful to the Garden Buddies project for helping to make the community garden inclusive and welcoming for all ages and abilities, and creating opportunities to share knowledge from visiting other dementia gardens and implementing best practices in our own community garden."
As part of the project we have been listening to older people. They have been telling us how much they enjoy getting out and being in the garden, still planting and looking after the flowers, herbs and vegetables. Some people want to keep going in the garden they’ve had for years while others who no longer have a garden have found going along to a community garden really beneficial not only because they can continue to garden but also due to the social side of gardening in a community garden.
Why it's important:
As we get older, our relationship with gardens and gardening changes. Research suggests gardens become much more important for many reasons including:
- Being involved in gardening can really contribute to a person’s wellbeing. Gardening is on-going and ever-changing, anyone who has a garden will recognise that there is always something to do! Even if you have no garden, and have only limited space (perhaps for a few pots on windowsills) this is an activity that can give great pleasure. It can distract, engage, add to routines and be a focus for physical activity.
- It provides a fantastic opportunity for stimulation of all the senses. There are the sensations of touch – soil, flowers, bark (but mind the thorns!). There is visual stimulation – an amazing range of colour and shapes, sunlight, as well as the wildlife a garden can offer. There are the smells of flowers and vegetables, of herbs or of a freshly mown lawn. And there are the sounds – birdsong, insects, and rustle of wind in trees; and of course, there is taste – eating fruit, vegetables, and even edible flowers such as nasturtiums or marigolds.
- It also has many physical benefits – including dexterity skills, improved balance and broader exercise through potting, planting, digging, sweeping, weeding and pruning – which can lead to reduced agitation and improved sleep.
- For people living with dementia much of the activity in the garden is in the ‘here and now’, and the enjoyment of sharing a current task. This can be so rewarding, where the calmness of the surroundings can also lead to developing and sustaining relationships, not only through doing things together but also through the chatting that always takes place.
- Gardening can give people a sense of purpose as they are contributing and helping create something. This is especially important for people who are seen through the lens of 'What is wrong with them' and 'What they can't do'.
Who we are
Outside the Box provides development support to groups and people across Scotland who want to make a difference in their communities. We are a small, independent charity and aim to work as a social enterprise.
We give practical support and enable people to learn the types of skills that are important both for establishing new ventures and for sustaining them. We assist people to contribute on issues that are about how their community or society works and we encourage people to think of themselves and other people as citizens, rather than as recipients of services or as people who are restricted by a particular description or label.
In 2019 I was suffering from severe mental health issues. I sought help and advice from all manner of sources. When you start looking you can find many different ways to try and improve your health, from the professional to the preposterous.
I found amongst this hubbub of advice that there were recurring themes, and the most consistent of these, were the ideas of "fresh air and exercise", "taking time to appreciate the natural world", and "seeking companionship".
Gardening immediately ticks all these boxes. I was very lucky to find a local group at St Ronan's Wells in Innerleithen. The gardeners were welcoming, non judgemental and sympathetic. My condition varied over the months - sometimes miserable, sometimes happy - but always the feeling of being outside, doing something useful, being with friends and being in a lovely environment kept me coming back week after week.
Now I am in better shape and I will carry on working with the group. You are never "cured" of mental health but in my experience, gardening goes a long, long way to getting and keeping you well.
"I'm not alone in being grateful to the garden for giving me confidence to garden. I used to try to grow vegetables at home but it wasn't much fun and I didn't see myself as a gardener. Since we've started the Secret Garden, I'm gardening and socialising with confident gardeners and I've absorbed their knowledge and their love of it."
"I loved to potter in the garden, but after my wife passed away I lost interest as it was something we did together. My daughter encouraged me to go along to the local community garden. It was great, the people were lovely and it reminded me why I loved being in the garden so much. Now I am back in my own garden, it has taken me a while to get it back on track as I really let it go for a while there but it is really starting to take shape again and I love coming in and admiring what I have achieved."