Yard Care and Admitting You Change Physically as You Age

Aging-in-Place Garden and Landscape Design

Can You Admit Your Body Will Change Physically as You Age?

It's a tough subject for Baby Boomers. After all, you still feel great, but admitting that your body is changing is an essential step for an aging-in-place garden. It can also be a fascinating journey to learn more about yourself.

What does your “ideal yard” look like? 

If you make a list, your perfect yard might include:
• A smooth green, easy to take care of lawn
• Plants that look great year-round when seen by your neighbors or people driving by
• A beautiful shade tree in the middle of the front yard
• Evergreen shrubs or fencing for privacy and to hide trash and recycling cans
• Attractive plants around the foundation of your home

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This is the typical landscape around most homes. It's the standard yard for the neighborhood and fits in with everyone else. Much like developers will put the same roof on all the houses in a community; they install five plant species from their palette of nine in the front yard. When you drive through a subdivision, you can tell which have restrictive covenants and which have demanding homeowner associations. All of the yards look the same – they're neat and well-maintained and, frankly, a bit boring.

So, what if it's time to change your vision of the ideal yard as a better way to keep and maintain your health? Understanding and recognizing that change will affect our bodies may mean it's time for a new “ideal yard:”

• One that is unique
• One that is custom fit for you
• One that is designed around how you individually perceive nature
• One that provides support, healing, and living well for your lifetime

What if you try sensory exercises and discover you have a hidden longing for a sculpture garden instead of a front lawn, a landscape where you can touch rough or smooth stone? Or a yard with plenty of sitting areas and arbors where you can feel the shifting warmth and cool in the sun or clouds? Maybe you'd prefer a mix of high and low shrubs with fuzzy or glossy leaves for texture that you enjoy touching whenever you walk through? What if you want a tall flowering tree with a bench by the trunk where you can sit and feel the petals falling around you as you meditate in the late spring? What if you yearn for a weeping willow with branches so low you stoop under and when you do you notice frost has touched the ground cover here, and it's turning bright red. Maybe it's time to change your perspective, for your yard or garden to say its design is a deliberate one to care for the people who live there.

Creating Your Ideal Aging-in-Place Landscape through Elderyarding®

Recognizing that your body is physically changing and your perspective for your yard is shifting can mean that it's time to consider redesigning your landscape using Elderyarding® principles. 

Elderyarding® is the design and development of adaptable yards and gardens that meet the lifetime needs of homeowners who choose to age-in-place. Here at Second Summer®, we've combed the research on how to design outdoor environments for senior apartment complexes, assisted living facilities, memory care centers, and nursing homes. Then we tweaked and applied that research to develop our five key principles for Elderyarding® that are the groundwork for aging-in-place design for you, the homeowner.

1. Your yard should be safe to navigate.

Paths and walkways should be wide enough to handle a walker or wheelchair - for friends and other visitors if you won’t need one. Immediate installation can be a soft surface like mulch if a hard surface isn't needed right away. Lighting should illuminate elements like grade changes, steps, and locations with faucets or recycling bins. Paying attention to sun and shade patterns in different seasons can ensure safe footing and task performance with changing vision and depth perception.

2. Handling yard care and other tasks should be easy.

Getting the newspaper, checking the mail, taking out the trash, and watering patio containers should all be safe and comfortable. Handrails or seating may be added for resting between tasks. Faucets can be raised to hand height, with new easy-turn lever handles, if you have trouble bending over, or have a chronic condition like arthritis.

3. It should personally please all five senses.

Everyone responds differently with the five senses. The colors, fragrances, surfaces, and sounds in your yard should evoke delight and beautiful memories. Because your senses will fade with age, the yard is a lovely space to stimulate the nerve connections in your brain and keep both senses and mind sharp. And your yard should be customized for your preferences and experiences to strengthen further and support the brain.

4. Access and enticement should be easy.

As you age, it can become more difficult to go outside, especially if a chronic illness is involved. However, studies show repeatedly that fresh air and exercise, including a daily 20-minute dose of sunlight for vitamin D, are important to maintaining your health, relieving stress, and healing more rapidly. Your yard should include comfortable seating, both in the sun and in the shade, sited to minimize glare, plus plant combinations in doorway gardens and across your landscape that stir curiosity and invite you to step outdoors to explore. A place for soft-surface yoga or a designated walking meditation path can help you to make exercise a healthy habit.

5. Your yard should anticipate future needs.

An Elderyarding® design anticipates future needs and is ready to accommodate changes as they become necessary. Your design plan should give careful thought to items like pathways, additional lighting, movement of favorite plants to easy to care for patio containers, and height controls for faucets, bird feeders, and other controls. A practical design can plan for future transformations and design ideas like short vistas and walkways disappearing around a corner with later needs for clearly visible garden layouts that can accommodate wayfinding and memory.

Aging is an inevitability that can be made easier by accepting it as fact and preparing for the changes that are coming. Transforming your landscape to incorporate Elderyarding® principles can make your aging-in-place landscape safer, easier to maintain, and more productive.

Ann Yakimovicz