Passive vs Active Gardens There are a lot of myths about Alzheimer’s and the People-plant connection. Much of this is a matter of perspective. We look at the person with the dementia from our viewpoint and focus on what they lack. We need to look through their eyes, feel with their fingers, think with the imagination they possess, and the needs they have. Start from where they are rather than where they might once have been. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can celebrate the people-plant connection, the sensory and mental stimulation it provides. The journey down memory lane, and the new discoveries to be made on the road less traveled, are opportunities to be found in a truly therapeutic garden designed for our friends and family members with memory and cognitive challenges. Most of these folks are no stranger to the garden, for many it is home.Why a garden?
The garden setting can be psychologically comforting and reassuring at a primal or instinctive level. With vistas and curved paths, open space and pleasant surprises, the garden can be safe and inviting, even when we don’t understand botany and ecology, or the fine points of horticulture we can breath easier and relax, shed the stress and confusion and simply BE ONE WITH THE GARDEN. That garden can be indoors or out, large or small. It still welcome all and embraces without judgement. The value is enhanced when we can become a part of the garden, rather than apart from it. The problem is that all too often these gardens are designed by professional landscape architects, not experienced horticultural therapists. Just because a garden is designed to be a work of art doesn’t mean that it is the safest, or most convenient for an Alzheimer’s patient, or someone with mobility limitations. Gardens for the Senses, Gardening as Therapy by Hank Bruce has a summary of ways to make the garden comfortable, functional and safe for everyone.
Simple truths The People-Plant Connection can be found almost anywhere. We think of the garden as being outdoors, but it doesn’t have to be. A functional garden can be on a windowsill, or tabletop.
The garden is alive and filled with surprises. Too often we view it as place to sit and perhaps gaze at a rose until boredom forces us to drift into a nap’s embrace.
The garden is full of opportunities to experience and engage. Yet we fill it with barriers and DO NOT TOUCH signs.
We speak of healing gardens with places to sit and pray or meditate. But there is also a beautiful opportunity to be active, empowered and intrigued, to have both mind and body stimulated. We can so easily create opportunities for discoveries, surprises, and smiles. The best healing garden is one where there are opportunities to be actively involved.
The garden is a living thing. It is ever changing, with new discoveries at every turn, new surprises every day. How can we deny anyone this opportunity?
It is all fine and good to trigger memories, but it is far better to trigger the imagination.
No garden is 100% passive, no matter how hard we try.
Dancing with the Shadows Gloria lived in a wheelchair and often had trouble finding the words to string together into a coherent sentence, instead she would hum. For this reason she was all too frequently left out, like Rudolph and the reindeer games. She was ignored during many of the day care activities. One afternoon one of my volunteers decided to take the "garden club" outdoors and into the small park next door. The group was strolling down the walk when Gloria started humming and pointing to the shadows the pecan leaves were casting on the walkway. The volunteer began to deliver a discourse on pecans, pecan trees and pecan pie. But suddenly, Gloria was waving her arms and wiggling her fingers. There was a sparkle in her eyes. The volunteer viewed this as a distraction from her lecture, but Gloria interrupted, "Look! Look! They’re dancing!" Immediately everyone began waving their arms along with the shadows. I don’t know if Gloria made the connection between the leaves fluttering in the breeze and their shadows dancing on the pavement, but for her it was a moment of discovery, a shared experience, and a reason for everyone to smile. It may have begun as a passive walk in the park but she turned it into an active experience for everyone.