One of the biggest challenges we face in our lifetime is mastering the skill of being present during the process of growing old. Our aging body is the physical representation of the experiences that make us each unique and different. We become aware of what makes us feel most at peace, such as the fragrance of honeysuckle or the sounds of a creek, and tend to want to surround ourselves with those experiences. For those who find comfort in the natural world around them, the thought of losing that connection with nature becomes one of the hardships of growing old. Thankfully, through mindful designs and a focus on aging at home, the accessibility to the natural world is easier than ever.
For our area, Asheville is constantly being suggested as one of the best places to retire, including the most recent Forbe’s 2018. We find that the majority of people retiring here tend to be drawn to the beautiful mountains that have been providing natural therapy for hundreds of years. Located in the heart of national and state parks, the Western North Carolina region provides the services and needs of a larger city, but allows for easy access to the natural environment that more urban cities can’t provide.
We already know that gardening and being out in nature is good for the soul and body. The difficult part comes when the body has a harder time dealing with the various elements and activities associated with an outdoor experience. Often, the changes to our physical body as we grow old become the most predominant change. The key, however, is understanding each individual’s limitations and adapting the home’s outdoor environment to support those needs. For us in the landscaping industry, we want to focus on designing and building a landscape that provides a meaningful outdoor experience that is accessible for every individual, regardless of age or disability.
The most important aspect of designing a landscape that supports the journey of growing older, is one that allows a person to feel confident. If you aren’t able to feel comfortable in your outdoor environment, you won’t be able to appreciate the things that make you happy. The fear of injury or being in an environment that lacks personal preferences won’t make any experience enjoyable.
To help the transition of growing older, we suggest taking these design aspects into consideration.
Our senses are often the first to lose there sharpness as we grow old. Whether it’s the day you realize you need glasses to see the birds in your backyard, or noticing that the spring blooms just don’t smell as powerful as they once were – it happens. That being said, your yard can be modified in a manner that focuses on the senses in which you have always loved.
Through positioning and careful planning, you can bring the natural world around closer to fit your needs. Environments that safely house birds and other critters will make sure you can embrace the natural sounds around you. This also can work with blocking out the unnatural sounds from neighboring noises with natural fencing. Focus on your favorite scents in container gardens by strategically placing them around the property.
For more information on creating a multi-sensory garden, check out our blog on developing and harnessing the natural world around you.
One of the main challenges of aging is mobility. We learn to embrace experiencing the world around us at a slower pace, often with the help of mobility aids. Pathways should be large enough to be handicap accessible and without large gradients, while also taking into account surface area for traction. Slippery surfaces and an excess of steps may discourage users because of safety and accessibility.
Well lit areas that don’t bring any surprises are incredibly important, especially in the areas that right outside of the home and most used. Whether aesthetically pleasing or a floodlight – make sure everyone can see where they are going.
Places to sit:
Whether places to rest for a moment or relax for hours in the refreshing mountain air, comfortable and accessible places to sit are extremely important for elderly individuals to gain respite and enjoy the natural area. These areas can often have their own unique natural elements such as container gardens or sculptures that really enhance the setting. A water feature, at any size or shape, can enhance any place to relax for hours. We know, as our office bench is right next to our water feature and is constantly being used!
Shade and weather sensitivity:
While places to rest are important, the condition of that area is even more important. As we age, we often become more sensitive to the temperature of our environment. Sitting out in the direct sunlight can be overwhelming for anyone, especially the elderly. It’s important to think about having access to either shade or warmth in your outdoor area. By providing pergolas or shade structures to block out the direct sunlight, or fire pits that produce heat with ease, we can easily control the temperature.
Shelly McKinney, our sales and operational manager suggests using higher container gardens such as VegTrugs from Kingsman gardening supplies. By creating a higher level container garden, you are able to continue the joys of getting your hands dirty – without the bending and stooping that can be tiresome or even painful for some. With properly positioned container gardens, playing in the dirt is only a few reachable feet away. Plus, everyone can benefit from home grown veggies at every age.
Along with looking at the pathways and accessibility to different parts of your garden, individuals looking stay in their home as they age will need to assess the safety concerns of their yard. Just like inside the home, the outdoors needs to be an area of comfort and ease. A once small ledge can create severe harm to someone elderly, especially to someone who already has an injury or disability. The same goes for uneven grounds, sharp objects or lack of strong support aides around the area, such as railings or support beams. From material to design – each aspect of a landscape really needs to be processed with the user in mind.
Designing with maintenance in mind.
A simplistic design of a landscape has multiple benefits. In this case, a less complex landscape can benefit an older homeowner as it means less maintenance to keep it looking its best. The ability to maintain one’s landscape, whether financial or physically, should directly correlate to the design. Understanding one’s limitations, or soon to be limitations, should be one of the beginning steps in designing a landscape for someone who is looking to age in place. Depending on the region, various low maintenance plants can be strategically placed to allow for a very low maintenance schedule, without taking away from the aesthetics that one may want. Need help maintaining it? Our team of gardeners are personable and dedicated to their clients – learn more about our estate management by clicking here.
Are you or your loved one’s looking to begin the process of aging in place? Let our team develop an outdoor environment that will keep you enjoying your own outdoor living area regardless of age or ability. Bring the joys of all your experiences to your backyard, and continue to make memories with each coming year.
-Team Snow Creek