By Gina Larsen, guest

I recently spoke to a chef who can trace his passion for food and culinary pursuits all the way back to his Sunday after-church walks with his grandpa. They’d be waiting for his grandma to finish preparing the noon meal, and the two of them would walk the property, sampling the fresh produce that had ripened just that week. His summers were one long food memory, from asparagus to apples, and never mind a bite of dirt here or there.

My mom remembers her grandpa’s garden, too, and the old cast iron sink he rigged up with a hose in the back yard for a first rinse of his homegrown vegetables before bringing them up to the kitchen. (If, by chance, you can recall the smell of a Chesterfield unfiltered cigarette, the two memories always go together, as does giving her baby doll a bath in that old sink.)

People age 70 or older grew up in a time when most families grew and preserved much of their own food. Many seniors still relish the opportunity to grow and eat fresh vegetables, smell rain-soaked soil, touch fragile blooms, or gaze upon a lush garden in the summer sun. Here are some thoughts on how to help keep the goodness of gardening in your loved one’s life, with a nod to the University of Minnesota Extension and their recommendations for creating healing gardens in care facilities, a place to soothe the body and mind:

If seniors are actively gardening:

● Purchase seed tape for easier handling and planting.
● Build and design raised beds that provide a place to sit or stand and garden.
● Use gardening tools that are optimally designed for gardeners who are seated. Curved or longer handles provide better grip and more leverage.
● Choose plants with different leaf textures, forms, and smells to stimulate the senses and memory.
● Be safe and garden early in the morning or late in the day. Avoid being out between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, and allow time for breaks in the shade.

If seniors are more apt to sit outside and simply enjoy the gardens, be sure to:

● Use warm, highly saturated hues (red, orange, yellow) that are easier for the elderly to see than cooler hues (blue, purple, green).
● Provide seating with back support and arm rests.
● Provide sunscreens, trellises, fences, walls, baffles, and plant materials to alleviate the harsh effects of the sun and wind in outdoor spaces.
● Provide transition areas between indoor and outdoor spaces, such as screen porches or overhangs, to provide protection from the elements, allow eyes to adjust to bright outdoor light, and provide a place to sit and view the activities without being involved in them.
● Situate plantings to provide views from windows looking out onto the garden for people who are unable to go outside.
● In the case of a memory garden, designed for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, provide landmarks such as sculpture, a profusion of flowers, or a water feature to help orient the users of the space.

Plant, visit, or reminisce about a garden with someone you love. If you’d like to join us as a Valley VNA gardening volunteer or a resident gardener, call us at (920) 727-5555. You’ll be amazed at what blooms.