Blue tit garden feeder
From growing and maintaining a space to simply being in the moment, gardens and nature offer so many opportunities. Here are some gardening tips and ideas for you.

Using this guide

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A person standing in a garden
A person standing in a garden

Deciding what you would like to do in the garden, or in nature, should be about finding things you enjoy doing.

If you are an experienced gardener, you may be able to keep doing the gardening activities you’ve always enjoyed. Some adjustments to how you do them may help.

Gardening might not be for everyone. There are still lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors and time in nature. That could be anything from sitting and watching wildlife to a social game of garden boule if you have the space.

What you feel like doing may change from day to day. On cold days, you may feel like a quick five minutes outdoors. Equally, you may prefer to stay indoors. There are still ways you can get pleasure from nature.

Here are some ideas depending on your energy level and where you would like to garden.

Seated gardening tasks

R001 108
A person sows seeds in a tray

X is more comfortable seated. At the allotment we do lots of things sitting down. Preparing onions, garlic, sorting veg are all perfect for this.

Debbie, Great Dunmow allotment group

You can enjoy all the following while sitting down, or indoors if you prefer

Light gardening tasks

Courgette Picking Hands from dementia adventure
A person picking courgettes from the vegetable patch

When you feel like a fairly light level of physical activity, try one of these:

  • Watering plants. This can be heavy or lighter work, depending on what and how you are watering. Our section on watering has different ideas and tips to help.
  • Dead-heading. In some cases, this can just be done using your hands or with scissors
  • Weeding. This can be quite physical, but if you have raised beds and containers, you can often pull weeds out by hand, which is easier.
  • Harvest fruit and vegetables. Picking food like strawberries, peas or tomatoes is fairly light work. And, it leads directly on to making something in the kitchen.
  • Top up any bird feeders. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the antics of any feathered visitors.
  • Sweeping. Gently sweep paths and patios. If you’re with someone else, they could help you pick up debris.

More physical gardening tasks

If you would like to do something more physical in the garden, these will raise your heart rate.

  • Preparing beds for planting. Digging and clearing can be an energetic activity that challenges all the muscles.
  • Raking. Raking lawns and beds provides a good workout.
  • Build an insect house. This is a project that then allows you to sit and see what minibeasts are using it.
  • Turn compost. If you have a compost pile or bin, turn over the composted material with a fork and spread on containers and garden beds.

Top tip

You could always ask for help with more physical tasks. Put your energy into whatever you would most like to do.

Spending time in nature

A set of wooden bowls in the garden
A set of wooden bowls in the garden

You don’t have to be growing something, or doing a task, to enjoy gardens and nature. Sometimes just appreciating your surroundings can give a mood boost. Here are some ideas to help you enjoy time in nature.

  • Focus on what’s outside. Spend five minutes, or more if you feel like it, looking closely at what’s around you. Spot wildlife, or something new that is growing.
  • Explore a sensory garden. All outside spaces are multisensory, because of the stimulation of light, smell, touch, sound and temperature. Some are better than others, with more plants and wildlife spaces, making them a pleasant place to be in. You could make your garden even more sensory - read our guide for ideas.
  • Have a cup of tea or a picnic in your garden.
  • Use the garden as a social space – you could have a game of bowls if you have enough room.
  • Practise some mindfulness by sitting quietly and listening to everything around you. If you find it helpful, you could listen to a guided meditation, like this by The Honest Guys.
  • Take photographs of nature – a cloud formation, a leaf in close-up, bees on plants – and share with a friend or family.
  • Hang the washing outside. Some people find both time in nature and the process of hanging out washing calming.
  • Watch the sun rise or set.
  • Look at cloud formations and how they change as they move across the sky.

Connecting through nature

Trug with Beans Hands dementia adventure
Two people harvest beans and place in the a trug

Gardens and nature can be good ways to connect with others. Here are some ideas for connecting through nature.

  • You could work together on gardening tasks with friends, family or neighbours.
  • If you grow food, share excess produce.
  • Simply talk about how plants have featured in your life. That could be a significant flower in your life, making daisy chains or folklore (e.g. the reflection of a buttercup under the chin signals you like butter).
  • Look for a local community garden, or care farm, that is dementia-friendly.

Nature inspiration inside

Tulips windowsill view
Tulips by a window and a view of the garden

When the weather is cold and wet, or when you need to spend time indoors, there are still many ways to feel the benefits of nature.

I need to look after my health. I feel the cold and get tired very quickly.

Survey respondent, dementia and gardening

If you have a greenhouse or sunny spot inside and have the energy to create something, you could try one of the ideas in seated gardening tasks above.

If you want to do something quieter, you could try one of these.

  • Read a book or magazine about gardens, gardening or flowers. If someone is with you, use it to discuss most-loved plants or places in nature. You could also use it to talk about plans for the next year.
  • Play sounds from the garden, e.g. birdsong. You can find videos on YouTube of these. You could also record sound from your own garden on your mobile phone if you have one.
  • Watch wildlife live on your computer. Some organisations, like Wildlife Trusts, have webcams so you can watch different creatures from your home.
  • Have a seasonal nature box. This could include interesting items from the garden, like bright flowers, leaves and seed heads. Look at them over a cup of tea.
  • Enjoy the view of your garden from your window. It can help if you have something interesting in your eyeline, like bird feeders or hanging baskets.

My physical health stops me gardening but I still love looking at plants and gardens.

Survey respondent, dementia and gardening
Greenhouse and garden geoff stevens care farm
A greenhouse and surrounding plants at Pathways Care Farm

Some of these tips may help make time in the garden easier and more enjoyable.

Make a plan

Knowing what to do and when is important for every gardener.

A good idea is to make a yearly plan for your space. You could do this using an A3 piece of paper. Write on it what needs to be done when through the year. This could be monthly activities, for example.

If it helps, you could draw a rough sketch of your garden. Adding pictures of what you’re growing where can be a helpful prompt.

Put your plan in the shed or somewhere prominent as a reminder.

Break bigger tasks down

Some gardening tasks are bigger than others. You could break big tasks down into smaller tasks, some of which you can do and others to get help with. For example, you could get help to dig and clear a bed, then sow seeds yourself.

Focus your energy on things you enjoy and feel doable. That could be dead-heading, watering, or simply enjoying time in the garden. Equally, if you love mowing and feel comfortable doing it – keep going!

I can no longer do my own garden as I can’t plan and process tasks without support.

Survey respondent, dementia and gardening

Gardens are very forgiving. It doesn’t matter if things are done ‘correctly’ or even finished. A less neat garden will invite nature in looking for food and wildflower seeds.

Get time reminders

Whenever the mood takes you, it’s good to get into the garden.

If you find it helpful, you could set a daily reminder on your calendar to make time outside – even if just for a few minutes.

Keen gardeners can easily get absorbed in the moment. You could consider setting a timer so you don’t end up overdoing it! Family and relatives could help set this up in advance.

Your tip

“It’s better to do half an hour every day than three and a half hours in one go!”

– survey respondent, gardening and dementia

Make things easier to find

Keeping your tools and equipment visible and well-ordered can make them much easier to find.

Having things out and not shut away can be a good visual reminder. For example, having equipment hanging neatly from labelled hooks.

Try to keep your shed tidy. If you have drawers, shelves and boxes label them so you instantly know what’s inside. Clear plastic containers make good storage boxes.

You could also put name labels on your tools to easily identify them. Bright electrical tape on the handles will make them easier to find when left anywhere.

Try and have a place for everything and always keep things in their same place.

Identify your plants

Kale trunkwell
Kale in a vegetable bed along with plant label with photo

What plants you grow and how you grow them is about personal preference. Enjoying plants is the most important thing.

There are things you can do, so it’s easier to identify what you are growing. Adding name labels to plants is one good idea.

You could photograph your plants when they are in full bloom in spring / summer. This is especially helpful for pots. Save the photographs on your phone or computer with notes and it will help you know what is growing.

You could try a different style of planting, grouping lots of the same plant together. For example, three of one plant, five of another, seven of another. Having less plant types can be simpler to manage.

Another idea is to grow plants next to each other that are contrasting colours. This will help tell them apart from each other.

Greenhouse set up

Greenhouses or poly tunnels can be wonderful places to store and grow things in colder weather. This makes it possible to spend more time outside, gardening for more of the year. They can be highly sensory, with smells, temperature and plants around you.

I only want to be outside in good weather - without the cold, wind and rain.

Survey respondent, gardening and dementia

When you are working in the greenhouse, set up any tables or shelves so you can work comfortably.

If you don’t have a greenhouse, you could take things indoors. Think about how you could make use of a sunny porch or a window ledge.

Start fresh each time

Always try to tidy away at the end of a gardening session. This will allow you to start fresh next time. Put any tools and equipment back in the same place they are always kept.

If you have a gardening companion, putting things away is something you could ask for some help with.

Two people sweeping paths with broom 92
Two people working together to tidy the garden

We all have days where we feel more motivated than others. Here are some tips to help.

1. Be kind to yourself.

Do what you can and what feels right for the day, no matter how small. Sometimes just stepping outside for a few minutes to listen to outside sounds or look more closely at something can be a real boost.

If you feel like staying indoors, can you bring the outside in? Open a window to listen to the birds, look at the view, or plan for next time.

2. Have visual or vocal prompts

Could you place your shoes and coat handy near the door? Or, if you are feeding birds, have the things you need to top up feeders by the door.

You could put a note of what you want to do in an obvious place like on a fridge door. If you have a smart speaker like Alexa, Google Nest or Amazon Echo you could set a reminder for what you want to do. Ask for help to set this if needed.

Have some items in the garden you are looking after within sight from the window. This could be a pot or planter, or a birdbath or feeder that needs filling.

3. Get a helping hand

If you live on your own and a task feels a bit daunting, can you get a helping hand from a friend, family member or local support organisation?

Together, you could break it down into different steps. Do the bits you enjoy and share that time together.

4. Celebrate your achievements

When you’ve completed a task, give yourself a pat on the back. Maybe you could take a picture on your phone to share with friends and family.

If it’s a shared task, congratulate each other. Make the most of what you’ve achieved.

5. Use your garden as an outdoor room

Getting the benefits of the garden doesn’t have to involve gardening! There are different ways to enjoy your space – see above for ideas.

Day-to-day activities like reading, hobbies, relaxing, eating and drinking and chatting with friends and family can all be done outdoors.

6. Share and link with the community

You might find sharing the joy of what you do with others, offering some help, is motivating. That could be through giving flowers or vegetables to family or neighbours, or growing plants for a local fundraiser.

We recently took part in the local community's biggest runner bean competition. We tied a ribbon around the longest bean, with a note that said, 'do not pick - this is going into a competition'. We did not win but received a lot of congratulations!

Great Dunmow allotment group
A person using a kneeler with handles for support
A person using a kneeler seat with handles and tool with arm support

You might not need to make adaptations to how you garden. This section is only if you are looking for solutions to something you are finding tricky.

There are lots of tips and ideas to approach things. Find what’s right for you. Sometimes the simplest things can be the best, like using scissors, jugs, a fork or a spoon.

Ergonomic tools

You can find ergonomic versions of many garden tools, particularly hand tools. Many of these have handles designed to reduce hand and wrist strain.

You can also buy add on handles that help make the tools you have more ergonomic. These can be combined with arm support cuffs to keep things steady.

Interchangeable tools

You can find a range of ‘multi-change’ tools, which have interchangeable heads.

These tend to be high quality, but make sure you can comfortably switch the different heads around.

Your tip

“I like using Wolf Garten multi-change tools in my garden.”

survey respondent, gardening and dementia

General gardening equipment

  • Kneeler seat with handles. Makes gardening tasks at ground level more comfortable. The kneeler protects your knees, while the handles make it easier to get back up again.
  • Good quality gardening gloves. Bright coloured gloves may be easier to find

Equipment to help find and store things

  • Tupperware containers (clear plastic is best for seeing into)
  • Bright colour electrical tape. Put this on the handles of key tools so they can be easily found anywhere.
  • Hooks in the shed. Label the hooks so you know what should go where.

Your tip

“Plastic food containers, like takeaway containers with lids, are great. They can be stacked and marked with what’s inside by writing onto masking tape. Also, try to keep things relating to one activity together instead of mixing things up.”

- survey respondent, gardening and dementia

Tools to help move things

  • Gardening trolley. Allows tools and equipment to be easily gathered together and wheeled to where you are working, reducing the risk of losing items.
  • Sack truck. Makes moving heavy items easier.
  • Garden apron. Carry and store smaller items in pockets around your person.
  • Two-wheeled wheelbarrow. May be more stable than a one-wheeled version.

Your tip

“I recommend getting someone else to move things! If that’s not possible, using anything with four wheels can help - old prams are better than wheelbarrows sometimes, as you don’t have to lift the weight.”

– survey respondent, gardening and dementia

Tools for clearing and tidying

  • Leaf rake. Choose a lightweight version for clearing leaves and debris from the garden.
  • Battery powered leaf blower.
  • Lightweight garden broom.
  • Litter picker. Allows you to collect debris without bending via the push of a button.

Your tip

“If a tool you want is electric, go for battery options so you don’t have to worry about/manage the cable!”

– survey respondent, gardening and dementia

Tools for sowing seeds, bulbs and planting

  • Plant labels. To mark out where seeds are sown, or as a helpful reminder of what any particular plant is. Large, easy read labels are also available.
  • Bulb planter. Dig holes for bulbs and smaller plants using less energy than with a spade or trowel. You can find long-handled versions if you want to avoid bending.

Tools for digging

Tools for weeding

Sometimes you can just pull out weeds by hand. Wear gardening gloves for protection. For trickier weeds, you could try:

  • Lightweight hand trowel.
  • Bulb planter. Useful for removing deep-rooted plants.
  • If you stand to weed, look for a lightweight hoe.
  • If your garden has lots of weeds with deep roots, a weed puller may be useful. Some people like the American tool, Grampa’s Weeder, which avoids any bending at the waist.

Your tip

"Sometimes, even hand tools are too big but old cutlery is brilliant for weeding, digging holes, etc. Also, old knives are good for splitting up plants.”

– survey respondent, gardening and dementia

Pruning tools

  • Cut and hold secateurs. These have a gripping device that locks onto and holds plant stems. They stop pruned material falling to the ground.
A video with Nancy for Dementia Adventure

In this short video recorded for Dementia Adventure, Nancy describes what she most enjoys in the garden.

"It makes me feel like one of the normal people," she explains. "I AM one of the normal people! As I say, I'm a gardener, who happens to have dementia."

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