Gardening and Older Adults

Gardening and Older Adults

Watching the news this morning in relation to Australian population growth got me thinking about the older generation. In 2016 3.7 million Australians were aged 65 and over which is 15% of the population. This is up from 9% in 1976 and projected to be 22% by 2056 (AIHW, 2018). Interestingly the percentages are nearly the same as the USA.

With an ageing population, it is important that Australia is thinking ahead about managing older Australians Physical and Psychological Wellbeing. The NDIS is a good start but what other options could be utilised to maintain a healthy older population? Gardening!

It is a complex question however, gardening has been shown to be a key leisure pursuit of older Australians (Patterson & Chang 1999). Participation in gardening has been shown to increase amongst the older population where it is common that participation in many other leisure pursuits begins to decline (Holbrook 2008). In a recent study conducted by Scott et al (2015) the benefits of gardening for the older population were listed as;

1)      Viewing plants or gardens through a window was linked to lower blood pressure, stress reduction, better immune functioning and increased subjective vitality

2)      Direct contact with nature is linked to rejuvenation, inner peace, anxiety & stress reduction as well as improved cognition

3)      Gardens provide access to sunshine and fresh air which regulate circadian rhythms and greatly influences sleep and eating patterns

4)      Gardening can provide an avenue for self-expression, self-sufficiency and enhanced self-esteem

5)      Gardening can become part of your identity as it becomes a normal part of the daily routine

6)      Gardening increases fruit and vegetable consumption

7)      Gardening provides an opportunity for increased physical activity and exercise

Scott et al (2015) highlight the importance of maintaining leisure activities as older adults in relation to psychological and physical wellbeing. Scott et al (2015) studied how Australian adult gardeners report that they adapt their gardening practices as they age.

Scott et al (2015) stated one theory of successful ageing that may inform this issue is Selective Optimization with Compensation (SOC; Baltes 1987), a life management strategy that focuses on goal setting and achievement by means of adaptation and compensation. SOC considers the process of ageing within a framework of development. The theory proposes that older adults possess enormous reserves of capacity in terms of functioning. As such, healthy adaptation to ageing involves a shifting balance between losses and gains, and the congruence between the individual’s goals and behaviour and their personal resources or environmental support for that behaviour (Baltes 1987) That is, the individual needs to set realistic goals (selection) and then allocate or refine their resources, either personal or environmental (optimisation), and make adjustments or use substitutive processes (compensation) that achieve the desired behaviour or goal (Freund and Baltes 1998).

Scott et al (2015) findings included;

  • Watering was the most common gardening activity
  • Half of the participants continued to mow and dig in their gardens suggesting active gardeners
  • Other gardening activities participated in were wandering through or relaxing in the garden, watching gardening TV shows and propagating plants
  • Primary reason for gardening was the aesthetics of the garden
  • Other reasons for gardening included the positive feeling achieved, it’s meaningful engagement and that it was a purposeful activity
  • The study also found themes during the interviews with older adults. The benefits of gardening were described in the themes found such as restoration, relationships, plants, food, exercise, mental activity, physical activity and achievement

Gardening is clearly an important activity to promote in the older population and contributes to greater physical and psychological wellbeing. To ensure participation throughout the lifespan it is important that adjustments be made to compensate for functional loss. Through using theoretical frameworks like SOC goals that are optimistic and realistic can be created to assist with ongoing participation. This can be achieved through downsizing, shifting interests, planning activities, taking on more passive gardening roles and employing family, friends & volunteers to assist with difficult tasks.  





AIHW. (2018),

Baltes, P. B. (1987). Theoretical propositions of life-span developmental psychology: on the dynamics between growth and decline. Developmental Psychology, 5, 611-29

Freund, A. M. and Baltes, P. B. (1998). Selection, optimization, and compensation as strategies of life management: correlations with subjective indicators of successful aging. Psychology and Aging, 13, 4, 531-43

Holbrook, A. (2008). The Green We Need: An Investigation of the Benefits of Green Life and Green Spaces for Urban Dwellers’ Physical, Mental and Social Health. Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, Epping, Australia.

Patterson, I. and Chang, M. (1999). Participation in physical activities by older Australians: a review of the social psychological benefits and constraints. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 18, 4, 179-84

SCOTT, T. L., MASSER, B. M., & PACHANA, N. A. (2015). Exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening for older adults. Ageing and Society, 35(10), 2176-2200. Retrieved from