A Love of Gardening
My absolute favorite thing to eat in the summer is a tomato sandwich. A thick slice or two of tomato plucked right from the garden, covered with pepper and a sprinkle of salt in between two slices of bread.
Growing up, my family had a huge garden on about 1.5 acres in Arlington, Virginia. We lived on a property that was in my family since 1908 and the legacy of gardening had been passed down through my family line. As you can imagine, fresh tomato sandwiches were readily available in the summer!
I remember my Dad, Steve, spending hours planning out the garden beds; drawing out plots and deciding how to rotate what was planted each year in order to be sure that the soil was in the best condition for each plant type. The Burpee Seed catalogs filled the dining room table and seeds were delivered with enough time to plant and sprout them in our warm basement so that they were ready to be planted outdoors when spring weather arrived. We grew it all—gooseberries, plums, peaches, corn, eggplant, blueberries, figs, walnuts, grapes, black raspberries, squash, peppers, tomatoes and more! Our garden also played a big part in providing groceries for our family and adding to our food storage as many items were canned, pickled, jellied or frozen. The memories of time spent in the garden—even pulling weeds—are ones that I will remember for the rest of my life.
When my parents retired and relocated to a new home, having space for a garden was a top of the list item for my Dad. Gardening was a passion of his and he was looking forward to having more time for this now that he was retired. Unfortunately, changes in his attention to detail and gardening talent were one of the first indications that my Dad was experiencing some cognitive changes. For the first year or two, our family thought that it may have been my Dad working to get used to gardening in a new climate; moving from the DC area to the Rocky Mountains was quite a change. Ultimately, we knew there was more happening when Dad forgot to plant seeds, water the garden and appeared to lose interest in gardening all together. Not long after we noticed these changes, Dad was diagnosed with dementia.
Several years have passed since Dad received his diagnosis. Our family works hard to provide opportunities for our Dad to continue to be involved in activities that are meaningful to him, like gardening. It looks very different now-a-days, but watching him give gardening advice to the staff of his memory care, look through seed catalogs and help with the raised garden beds at his community is a small, bright spot.
Having had this experience with my own family member has helped to establish my own opinions on gardening as a therapeutic tool with individuals who have dementia. The benefits of gardening—being outdoors, getting your hands dirty and being responsible for the literal growth of life through plants is unlike anything else. In a New York Times article, “Heal With Me”, it shares that getting your hands dirty can increase your serotonin levels through contact with soil and a specific soil bacteria—ultimately making you happier and releasing serotonin, a natural anti-depressant!
Eldergrow, LLC, an organization who focuses on providing therapeutic horticulture engagement opportunities for senior living organizations, shares the following as benefits of gardening:
- Improves motor skills
- Reduces risk factors for dementia
- Elevates mood
- Improves sleep
- Reduces falls
- Reduces agitation
- Improves self-esteem
- Acts as an antidepressant
“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies” -Gertrude Jekyll
I am grateful for my Dad’s love of gardening and the seed that was planted because of it. I hope as we finish out this summer season with our gardens, we can all have hands that are a little more dirty…and all be a bit happier!
Jessica Peters is the Assistant Director at Insight Memory Care Center. If she's not in the garden or enjoying a tomato sandwich, you'll find her out hiking, at the pool, possibly vacuuming, or enjoying time with her husband, three children, and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Activities & Engagement
"I like that IMCC focuses on dementia-related problems and provides a focal point for families to network and socially interact in coping with dementia. It provides a community that helps us in our struggle."