Sensory Gardening Stimulating Seniors

the green ambassador


July of 2016, my company was contracted to install an indoor edible herb garden at a senior living facility in Frederick, Maryland.

Nearby, setting on a couch in the activity room where the installation was taking place, was a nonresponsive man that suffered a stroke a few months ago, sitting next to his responsive wife that came to visit.  His wife said, “do I smell basil?…my husband loves basil….I used to cook with it all the time!”.

Of course, I immediately walk over to the couch and handed her the basil plant.  Instantly, her nonresponsive husband became alert; with a smile, as bright as the sun cascading through the blinds.  His wife was in awestruck and said, “I told you he loves basil and look he is back with me”, as loving tender tears ran down her cheek.

Currently, I witness miracles like this with people connecting to plants on a weekly basis through my therapeutic-sensory gardening programs I offer to senior living facilities for people living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Maryland.

What is sensory gardening?  

All plants appeal to our senses in one way or another.  Every plant has its own characteristics to tantalize our different senses through their array of colors, textures, and smells.   Sensory gardening is a garden environment that is designed with a purpose to maximize and stimulate all five (5) senses.  The stimulation occurs courtesy of the plants and the use of materials that engage one’s sense of sight, touch, taste, smell and sound.

Sounds awesome and perfect for people living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, but many senior living facilities throughout our country, do not see the value, worth and compassion sensory gardening has on people; especially those living with memory lost and their families.

There are a wealth of reasons, research, studies, and facts that shows our connection to plants and why connecting to certain plants can promote memory, and cogitative functioning; naturally and effectively.

Here are some studies to help support my findings:

  • Rutgers University, Jeanette Haviland-Jones conducted a behavioral study using plants and flowers.  Her findings were that plants and flowers are natural and healthful companions for moderating happy moods.  Wow, that explains when you get a bouquet of flowers delivered at your work place from a loved one, you and your co-workers are all in awe…..the flowers make you feel ‘happy’.
  • The physical activity associated with gardening helps to lower the risk of dementia. A recent study that followed a group of 60s and 70s for 16 years found that those who gardened regularly had a 36% to 47% lower risk for developing dementia then non-gardeners.  I have been gardening all my life, I guess according to this research I will have all my memories; the good and the bad.
  • A study out of the Netherlands founded that people who garden have a better view on life and the people around them. The study also showed, that people who are around plants exhibit lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in our bodies. So, happiness and gardening are directly related. Gardening could be that fountain of youth after all, smiling does reduce the aging process.

To the reader, I am on a quest to have sensory gardening programs in senior living facilities across America, but I sincerely need your assistance.  If you have a loved one living in a facility that does not have a gardening program please, encourage them to establish one.  If you are in the industry of senior living care, suggest a gardening program or if you know someone that works in the field, please share this article.  

The connection plants have with people is undeniable.  Connecting with plants is natural, effective, loving, and healthy.