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Gardening is a source of joy for many people and there’s no reason why your relative can’t continue, even if they have a physical disability or dementia.

It is possible to make adjustments to the garden and the tools your relative uses in order to ensure their comfort and safety.

This page contains information on:

1. Benefits of gardening
2. Indoor gardening
3. Gardening for people with dementia
4. Garden maintenance

Benefits of gardening

There are numerous benefits associated with gardening including:

  • physical activity
  • mental and sensory stimulation and reduction of stress and anxiety
  • a sense of ownership and accomplishment
  • time spent outdoors, in nature.

If your relative enjoys gardening but is finding it physically difficult, even minor adjustments can make a big difference.

  • Using raised planters for growing flowers and vegetables instead of growing them at ground level will mean your relative does not need to stay on their knees for an extended period. 
  • Hanging baskets can be fitted with pulley systems to make them easier to reach.
  • Laying down plastic underlay and covering it with bark chippings can also prevent weeds from coming through.
  • Long-handled and easy-grip trowels and forks are a beneficial alternative for older people with limited dexterity. Your relative may not even need to buy a whole new set of tools – he or she could get add-on grips or handles, which can be fitted to the tools they already own.
  • A garden kneeler makes it a lot more comfortable to kneel for longer periods.
  • Greenhouses can be made wheelchair accessible using ramps and with toughened safety glass to prevent accidents and injuries. It may lso be worth having an automated watering system fitted for ease.

It may be a good idea for you and your relative to reconsider the types of plants they are taking care of, as some require a higher level of care than others. Creating borders with low-maintenance plants (such as shrubs and annual bedding plants rather than higher-maintenance perennials) can reduce the difficulty of gardening.

Indoor gardening

If your relative no longer has an outdoor garden of their own, for example if they’ve moved into sheltered living or a care home, or have simply downsized to a smaller property, that needn’t mean the end of their enjoyment of gardening. A whole range of herbs, house plants and even vegetables can be grown indoors with the right care and attention.

A herb garden is one of the simplest ways to encourage indoor gardening, with the added benefit of being able to use and enjoy the produce when cooking. 

If your relative is able, consider a trip to a garden centre where you can both plan his or her indoor garden together, choosing which plants are most suitable and discussing the options with gardening experts.

Gardening for people with dementia

Gardening can be a very important part of your relative’s cognitive exercise if they have dementia, providing a broad range of potential activities and benefits. For example, if your relative has a vegetable garden, planning what meals to make with the vegetables is a practical and enjoyable form of mental stimulation. If they grow flowers, they might enjoy activities such as flower pressing or arranging.

Growing plants from seed to flower can also be a gentle, stress-free way for your relative to keep track of passing time and seasons, particularly if they are a life-long gardener.

Even if your relative is no longer able to live at home and enjoy their own garden, visiting parks and other public gardens – or even your own – can still be beneficial. 

If they are living in a care home or are planning a move into one, find out if it is has accessible gardening facilities for residents. This could well be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing a care home.

Garden maintenance

The physical aspects of garden maintenance – such as mowing the lawn or hedge trimming – may be unsuitable for your relative, so it’s important to make sure that this is taken care of and without risk of injury. This may be something you or another family member is willing to help out with, or it may be worth hiring a professional gardener to take on some of the more taxing gardening tasks.

Read more about hiring a trader on Which? Trusted Trader: another free service from Which?.

Some councils in the UK offer garden maintenance for elderly or disabled council tenants, so it’s a good idea to find out whether this is something your relative’s local council provides. If he or she is disabled, they can also apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to improve access from the home to the garden.

More information

  • Property downsizing: our guide contains everything you need to consider if you're downsizing.
  • Physical exercise: gardening is one of a number of low-impact physical activities to consider. Read our guide to see how you can help your relative ease into a gentle exercise routine.
  • Cognitive exercise and mental health: Find out more about cognitive exercise and the benefits for elderly people and individuals coping with dementia.

Page last reviewed: November 2016
Next review due: January 2019