Care Home Celebration Day: sharing the joy of gardening

Fiona Thackeray, Head of Operations & Development at Trellis Scotland shares the expected and unexpected benefits of gardening activity for care homes


The unexpected consequences of gardening

Many care home residents and carers who start gardening hope for improvements to physical fitness and the happy, relaxed mood that tending plants can bring. While gardening undoubtedly is one of the best ways to boost physical activity and mental wellbeing, often there are other changes that come about when people begin to tend a little plot of green. From reminiscing to spontaneous sing-alongs, gardening can have a whole host of surprising effects. 

At a Care Centre on the East side of Glasgow, our Trellis Project Advisor helped residents get stuck into a programme of gardening activities. The keen gardeners in this home didn’t need much support to get off the starting blocks and we found they’d been busy planting up some barrels with herbs and sweet peas on their own initiative, ahead of our third workshop. The group’s enthusiasm for their new gardening activities was inspiring 

The activity coordinator, following a suggestion from our Project Advisor, approached a well-known DIY chain to ask if they had any burst bags of compost to spare and was rewarded with a 10-bag donation. She said the Trellis support service exceeded her expectations in the quantity of helpful advice and ideas provided. The encouragement we brought led to residents ‘…getting really engaged in gardening activities and growing tomatoes, salad leaves, herbs and an attempt at potatoes this year…’ Residents said they’ve been getting great pleasure from the activity but also harvesting, tasting and seeing what we had grown used by the chef for our meals in the home. The coordinator added, I had no gardening experience. Working with Trellis gave me the confidence to try things and explore what is possible. Our residents were fully involved in the whole process. The benefits last long after the sessions have ended. For many participants the experience helped them recall memories of their own gardens or working with parents in the garden when they were children. We also created a photo album record of our gardening year which we often look at together and talk about plans for what to grow next year. From expressing their galloping gourmet side and savouring the fruits of their labours to the creative project of creating a photo album, this gardening group enjoyed more than just the satisfaction of seeing their plants flourish.  

At a care home in a large Victorian building in Crieff, residents and staff were keen to start making more of the patch of garden behind the house. Trellis staff helped them identify the existing plants as well as compile a shopping list of new varieties that would thrive in the shady and sunny corners of the plot. We also ran a demonstration session to inspire care workers and residents alike. As we planted bulbs and sowed pea seed into home-made paper pots, one of the gentlemen burst into song. Soon others joined in. Several residents were enjoying the activity so much they became a veritable production line of bulb pots, and with all the happy singing in the room, it somehow didn’t feel like a cold and grey January day any longer. 

We’ve compiled a new video to help people in care homes try out some simple gardening activities. The film is short – under 3 minutes – and shows you everything you need to run a short session that can be done indoors or out, any time of year. The ‘Nifty Spring Onions’ activity is designed to produce results quickly, giving a sense of reward in a short time, and the onion sets, being easy to handle, don’t demand the coordination and fine motor skills that can make sowing very fine seed so tricky. The activity is suitable for wheelchair gardeners and can be adapted to suit people with all levels of physical fitness 

Sharing the joy of gardening

What do you feel when you go into a garden? Happiness? Curiosity? A sense of calm? Or, like me this morning, amused irritation, as I watched a thrush attack the alpine strawberries, swallowing some, dashing others on the path – presumably not to her taste. Lots of people speak about how gardens have a clever way of making them forget their troubles. 

Gardens and gardening are a great way to increase the sense of calm in care settings for residents and staff, visitors and volunteers alike. The joy and pride that people feel when hyacinth bulbs they planted start to peep through the soil and the excitement and anticipation of seeing windowsill rocket seeds start to sprout are priceless for both those receiving and giving care. Many people will have enjoyed gardening before moving to a care home and it’s important to ensure that important part of their home life can be continued in care. But gardens, even just looking out at a garden view from indoors, have the power to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce feelings of pain, anger and stress and to foster relaxation and contentment. Whether a care home is your residence or workplace, benefits like these are too important to ignore.  

There’s plenty of help to get started. Trellis, the charity for therapeutic gardening, runs inspirational training and demonstration sessions to give care personnel and carers the skills and confidence to run gardening activities through the seasons. We run an information service to answer all your queries and provide on-site advice about planting plans, tools, funding and accessible layout. 

We love helping people realise their gardening ambitions and helping people see it’s easier than they think, so get in touch, what are you waiting for? 

Book and find out more about our seasonal gardening training or register interest for the Ayrshire events, coming soon, here: 

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