Gardening is one of life’s longest surviving practices – originating as a basic survival need and slowly evolving into a recreational hobby. More times than not, it is still a mixture of the two. There is something incredibly rewarding about eating fresh grown fruits and vegetables that you planted, nurtured and harvested. Further, gardening is a great means of exercising, breathing fresh air and feeling the sunshine on your face, while also saving a few dollars at the grocery store.

The benefits of gardening are evident through all stages of life, but is becoming much more prominent in senior living environments. In addition to improving physical health, gardening also encourages social interaction, friendship and a happier mental state. Food provides the opportunity to learn about one another’s traditions, culture, likes and dislikes, as well as stroll down memory lane.

The relationship between food and community was the premise for creating Beacon Hill at Eastgate which provides independent living for seniors based in Grand Rapids, MI. Project goals included creating an activity hub or focal point for resident socialization, in addition to integrating with the surrounding neighborhood in a meaningful way.

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Creating a half-acre community garden in the backyard was key to achieving project goals. Not only does the garden bring together residents, staff and neighbors, but it also produces many of the fresh ingredients used by Executive Chef Timothy England to create his seasonal specialties. In fact, Beacon Hill has saved over $100,000 in food costs since the community garden opened in 2012.

Many residents and neighbors eagerly do their part to turn the soil in one of the 24 garden plots, which is a great way to build community and work together towards a common purpose.

Things to consider when designing a garden for seniors include:

  • Wide paths provide access for wheelchairs and for people to walk side-by-side
  • Paving is non-slip and non-reflective
  • Gentle slopes rather than steps
  • Plenty of seating in both the sun and shade
  • Strong and contrasting colors
  • Easy access to faucets for watering
  • Accessible shed or box for storing garden tools

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