Drawing on data from a series of interviews, Eva (Hui-Ping) Cheng and Shane Pegg explored the meaning of gardening for 13 older Australians. The participants were retirees, ranging in age from 57 to 84. Most were in good health, however, Mary suffered chronic backache problems that allowed her to garden for a maximum of two hours at a time. And two others had been diagnosed with cancer.
The study in the World Leisure Journal (Sept. 9, 2016) highlighted four themes, central to understanding older people's everyday experience in the garden. They are:
- mental and psychological well-being
- a sense of accomplishment, and
- social interaction.
Gardening gives life meaning
Gardening played a central role in the lives of most of the participants. "It's somewhere you can go at any time and it's good therapy," said one 84-year-old man. "It has made me very happy all my life, and I'm still very happy and I hope I can go on for a few more years yet."
It is well known that a sense of purpose energizes life and gives it meaning. In this vein, 82-year-old Sue said gardening made her life worth living: "It keeps me going . . . No time to worry about me, no time to get sick. No! Just get out in the garden."
Gardening provides mental and psychological benefits
Physically, gardening tasks provide plenty of exercise from digging to toting water. And it gets people out of the house and into nature.
"It's really good," one woman said. "Because it's physical, it's mentally challenging, and it keeps your mind active because you're planning different things all the time."
In contrast, several participants spoke of the danger of sitting around watching TV all the time. They noted that gardening is pleasurable, encouraging creativity and self-expression.
As Joan explained:
I think the thing with gardening is that it gives you an enormous amount of pleasure, to go out and you see all the flowers out in bloom and everything looks lovely, and the bees, the birds all around them and the butterflies. It gives you enormous amount of pleasure just looking at all that.
Gardening provides a sense of accomplishment
Participants admitted gardening took time and effort. "Gardening does take up a lot of time, but that, you know, I just love it," one woman said. "If I'm not gardening, I'm not at my happiest."
Similarly, John found endless satisfaction growing a lot of his own plants: "When I get things to grow, it's like a new life, like a baby. I grow a lot of things from seeds, I grow them by myself. I propagate a lot of stuff myself from the seeds and see the whole thing."
Researchers found many participants viewed themselves as amateur gardeners, as did their family and friends.
Compliments from friends and neighbours added to participants' life satisfaction. As 69-year-old Anna said, "It makes me feel great when [the garden] looks good. . . . It does help my self-esteem, and I think it also makes me a more interesting person."
Gardening nurtures connection
Gardening also provides opportunities for social interaction and conversation. Many of the participants were members of gardening clubs. The clubs sponsored plant sales, clinics, bus tours and open gardens.
Anna, who had recently joined a club, touted opportunities to visit other members gardens and to acquire new plants and cuttings with little or no expense. She especially enjoyed swapping stories of her plant successes and failures.
Another 62-year-old participant remarked, "The people I have met through gardening are tremendous and I have made many great friends along the way."