The Many Benefits of Digging in the Dirt


Farmer planting young seedlings of lettuce salad in the vegetable garden

For a gardener, some of the longest stretches of time may be from the last of the fall harvest to the initial thawing of the frozen ground in spring. The necessity of allowing the ground to rest before planting begins is in direct contrast to the excitement many gardeners have regarding the first planting. These individuals wait for the days to grow longer and anxiously look for the time when the first buds burst forth on the trees and the greening of the grass signals it’s almost time for planting season to begin.

From the gathering areas of the SeniorCare Homes where the residents take their morning coffee, they’ve observed the daily changes taking place outside the window. From the colorful blooms on the trees to the increase of birds dining at the yard feeders, it’s clear to see that after a long winter’s wait, it’s finally time for spring to officially begin with the annual planting of the vegetable gardens.

This planting time offers the SeniorCare residents a chance to venture outside and experience first-hand the pleasures of sinking their hands into the soft, cool dirt and dropping the tiny seeds into place as the sun warms them from above. In addition to reintroducing the mental and physical benefits of gardening and tactile pleasures of digging in the dirt of the accessible garden, the residents can also enjoy the adjacent walking paths.

Once a Gardener…

Throughout our lives there are activities that remain so familiar we feel we know how to do them without even thinking about it. For some this might be the motion of kneading dough for a loaf of bread, twisting and tightening a screw into place or digging holes for plants and seeds in the dirt. The mere act of pulling a vegetable from the earth offers an opportunity to engage the five senses through taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell. Over time, these familiar actions become deeply entrenched within the memories of the brain. Recognition of this is recorded as far back as the 19th century when horticulture was first used as a calming therapy. Today its benefits continue to be seen with therapeutic gardens designed for soldiers returning from war.

Similar advantages are also being discovered for those dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The simple act of gentle gardening and planting can boost energy, improve sleep, provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and help shake the cobwebs off of old skill. Perhaps garden writer Hanna Rion summed it up best by saying, “The greatest gift of a garden is the restoration of the five senses.”

Engaging the Senses through Gardening

  • Feel the sun’s warmth
  • Hear the nearby birds singing
  • See the colors of the flowers and plants
  • Taste the vegetables (cooked or raw)
  • Smell the mixture of decaying leaves and dirt

SeniorCare Homes in Overland Park and Leawood, Kansas, offer the most comfortable and stable assisted living environment to seniors with dementia, memory loss, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Phone (913) 236-0036 to learn more about neighborhood living for the memory impaired.