As you know, I moved from Italy 3 years ago. I am very happy about my life here in Australia.
But, believe me, there’s not a day that I don’t miss my family and in particular my parents.

Next year my dad will turn 80 and my mum 75; I feel grateful because they are still with me and in good health. However, every time that I go back to Italy I see them becoming more fragile and less independent. I see them getting older and older, and I feel helpless.

Last year they took the decision to move from our house in the country, where they lived in for 40 years, to a smaller one in the city. Their place was big and with a 2.000 sm garden: as you can imagine it required a lot of maintenance. At a certain point they couldn’t manage it anymore.
Now they live in well-served area, in an apartment with a 150 sm garden that keeps them busy enough. At the moment they haven’t changed the layout of the garden, they are just re-arranging what they inherited from the previous owners: some roses, a couple of lemon trees and few other relevant plants (do you know how to design the layout of a garden? Have a look here!).

 

When they work in the garden I see them happy. My heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst and I wish that these moments could stretch on forever.

I also see them getting tired quickly, especially because the garden is not designed to make their life easier. So, when the right time comes, I will re-design it so that working and living in the garden will be more enjoyable for them.

I’ve become very passionate about accessibility and usability of the garden since when, some years ago, I worked for a lady who lost the use of her legs after an accident. We spent hours talking not only about her project, but also about all the things that now she finds really hard to do. She opened my eyes and made me aware of how much design neglects themes like ageing and limited mobility.

At the opposite, these aspects are largely explored in therapeutic gardens where the aim is to guarantee a universal accessibility and an engaging experience. I think that many of these principles should be applied to any garden and at any age: making a garden is indeed a lifetime process. As the garden grows, we grow with it and become, unfortunately, old and fragile. We can choose the right solutions today so that in the future we won’t regret our decisions.

 

5 deadly mistakes you need to avoid in garden design

 

So here there’s a list of simple rules to follow for making RIGHT NOW your life in the garden easier:

 

1. STEP IT UP

 

Often we think that changes of level make our garden look more interesting: we shape the soil or create retaining walls and steps so that our project gets dynamism. When we are young it could make sense to transform our garden into a step class at the gym, but even for me, in my early 40s, it looks uncomfortable. Paths should be continuous. If you can, avoid steps and choose ramps. The best would be to keep the same level between indoor and outdoor.

 

 In the Mies Van Der Rohe pavilion in Barcelona, the indoor space flows in to the outdoor thanks to a continuos paving. No obstacles here!

 

2. DIRTY HANDS, HAPPY SOUL

Without doubt gardening is an enjoyable form of exercise that helps mobility and flexibility. But it also make us happy. There is a scientific reason for it: a soil microbe called Mycobatterium vaccae stimulates serotonin production, which makes you feel relaxed. At the opposite, lack of serotonin can be responsible of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems.
This lovely bacterium appears to be a natural antidepressant in soil, so the more we put our hands in the dirt the more we experience a positive effect on our mood.
Working in the garden is highly encouraged, but if you are reading this article I take for granted that I don’t have to convince you. But let’s face the truth: bending over for gardening is tiring, especially if you like spending a fair amount of time working in the garden. The solution is planning raised garden beds so that soil and plants can be reached without bending over. The height of a garden bed should be 60-75 cm for wheelchair user, otherwise 70-90 cm for any adult person.

 

Raised garden beds can also inspire of having sexy moment, like in the movie ‘Ghost’

 

3. SMELL, TASTE, TOUCH, SEE, HEAR

 

It’s scientifically proven that gardening has a positive impact on sleep, memory, attention and cognition; it also maintains our brain active because it helps in learning new skills and regaining lost ones.
And, not least important, a garden that offers a complete sensorial experience that helps to keep alive familiar feelings and memories. In particular, smell is the strongest emotional trigger because the part of our brain responsible for basic memory evolved out of the tissue that makes up the olfactory cortex.
We can ignite our senses by including in the garden anything that promotes visual, olfactory, hearing and tactile stimulation, from plans to features. At the same time it’s important to bring life into the garden, by using plants that attract birds and butterflies.

If you want to know how to choose the right plants for your garden, have a look at this article.

 

When it comes to choose plants that ignite our senses I don’t really know what to pick first because there are so many of them!

 

4. GROW FOOD FOR BRAIN

 

The use of vegetables and herbs in the garden expands the visual and tactile experiences. As you know, herbs are nice to smell and touch because of their textures, and so are many vegetables. But there is also another important aspect to consider: working in the garden and growing plants according to the seasons gives a sense of purpose and helps in keeping a sense of time. Not to mention the benefits of having fresh vegetables in season!

 

Vegetables and herbs because of their texture and their smell improve the sensorial experience of a garden

 

As you can see, small changes in the design of the garden can have a big impact on the way and frequency you spend time in it: the easier it’s to do things, the more likely you’ll do them.

These are not aspects to consider only when your helping your parents to design their garden, or when you’re working for somebody who has limited mobility. We all get old. We all get fragile and less indipendent year by year. 

We all, at a certain stage, won’t be longer young and beautiful. But this doesn’t mean that we have to give up on things that make us happy. We just have to find the way to make easier to do them.

 

 

Now it’s time for you to let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment or sending me an email, but if you want to know more, below you can find some things to read and watch:

 

What Is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly?

Psychiatry Investigation, 2012 Jun

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3372556/

 

The sensory garden at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, Melbourne. Design: Steve Wells

Gardening Australia, 2017 Jul

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHHGSvIbusU

 

The Sensory Garden at the Botanic Garden at OSU. Design: Landscape Architect Michael Olmes

Oklahoma gardening, 2011 Nov.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sbHZy73RS0

 

A garden designed for Alzheimer’s patients

Associated Press,  2015 Jul

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsQYOgZGAzY

 

Gardening in Raised Beds and Containers for Older Gardeners and Individuals with Physical Disabilities.

Diane Relf, PhD, H.T.M.

http://www.hort.vt.edu/HUMAN/pub426020d.html

 

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5 deadly mistakes you need to avoid in garden design