Nature and the body
The benefits of working the land are well documented. In 2014, the University of Washington conducted a literature review of 99 studies on the benefits of nature and healing in the healthcare environment. Here are some findings:
The gardens are a place where residents and families can go during visits and can serve as a redirect tool for agitated residents with dementia. The gardens themselves are as much a focal point as the televisions or aquariums in lobbies or common rooms. As an added benefit, the gardens can travel around the facility year-round.
“I worked in senior care,” Concannon says. “A lot of places have beautiful courtyards. I saw that with my own eyes. What I also saw is these outdoor gardens were not available 12 months a year, they required special staff supervision and, in many cases, the residents couldn’t go outside without assistance or supervision. I think horticulture therapy will become a new standard in senior care the way that music and art therapy is.”
Eldergrow offers residents choice, autonomy and independence. The facility gets the garden, and residents choose what they grow themselves from a selection of flowers, herbs and vegetables. They get ownership and pride right from the beginning, Concannon says.
And, over time, the plants are rotated out. Some plants are replanted or repotted around the community. Residents can even gift them to loved ones. Concannon says one community grew sunflowers and transplanted them into pots when they were too tall and about to knock the grow lights. One woman gave her sunflowers to her great-grandson to plant, and he is now responsible for watering them.
“When in that environment can you go to the store and actually buy a gift for your great-grandson or your daughter?” Concannon says. “It’s difficult. It doesn’t happen, unfortunately. But to watch the residents gift something that they grew themselves to visiting family members is priceless. There’s nothing like it.”
Concannon says she knew she was on to something when she and three women were transplanting baby spider plants. She had some plant labels in her bag and asked if the women if they wanted to name the plants. The women chose Hope, Life and Sweetheart.
“I knew there was something magical and spiritual happening,” Concannon says. “We are providing a special experience for residents.”