The Wisdom of Older Gardeners: Gardening as a Source of Hope and Renewal in Everyday Life

Thursday, 15 July 2010: 2:25 PM

Carole Staley Collins, PhD, MSN, BSN
School of Nursing, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC

Learning Objective 1: Articulate the role of gardening and nearby nature as a leisure-time physical activity to be encouraged for its many health benefits.

Learning Objective 2: Gain an understanding for the significance of gardening as a health-promoting activity pertinent to the health of other populations.

Purpose: The demographics of our aging society globally suggest we must encourage a prevention focus to lessen the burden of chronic diseases to improve the quality of life in our communities. Recently gardening and yard work were second only to walking as a leisure-time physical activity of adults in the United States; globally it would likely be more important in these economic times. The World Health Organization’s global strategy implementation articulates physical activity goals; gardening could be a means to “promote healthy living (better diet, more physical activity...) and healthy societies, especially for the poor and those living in disadvantaged populations.” Our understanding of health outcomes pertaining to gardening is only just beginning to be realized and deserves further discussion for its pertinence to other population groups, too.

Methods: In a hermeneutic phenomenological study exploring the lived experience of gardening for seven older adults, community-dwelling older gardeners’ stories are lessons about hope and renewal in nature. In terms of health promotion, gardening sustains them. The research occurred with garden visits over a two-year period using two or more in-depth conversations with each gardener.
Results: Gardening is a creative physical activity and a source of social support, enhancing their sense of place during the uncertainty of aging. Comito (1978) explains, “Gardening is the art of environment, and we should expect to find in a garden some evidence of its planner’s sense of how he is related to the world” (p. 25). The gardeners show aspects of their lives characteristic of successful aging.
Conclusion: Nursing implications reside with global policy development. In transitioning our understanding of the value of gardening beyond the individual level of analysis to a population focus, we can affirm this leisure-time physical activity for its benefits to communities.