Getting outdoors can be so beneficial for those in a care home, and there’s an enormous amount of activities, jobs and experiences which will make it enjoyable

Many care homes have their own gardens, but sadly, they can be rather neglected or under-appreciated. However, the benefits of being outdoors and in the garden for care home residents are clear.

In fact, a report by Thrive (the gardening charity) found implementing a structured gardening programme could have a positive impact on the wellbeing, cognition and mood of people with young-onset dementia.

And whether you encourage your residents to simply sit outdoors and enjoy the fresh air, or to get involved with the activities below, you’ll notice that spending time in the garden can be extremely beneficial for them.

1. Grow fruit

The beauty of gardening is that it stimulates the senses, and particularly so if you’re able to eat what you’ve grown. Some of the easiest things to grow are soft fruits – think raspberries, strawberries or tomatoes – and herbs such as rosemary. Residents will love seeing the plants grow and then being able to harvest the fruit and herbs and then eat them.

2. Weeding and digging

If your residents have a good level of mobility and are sturdy on their feet, they may get real satisfaction from doing some weeding and digging. It’s also a great workout, but you’ll need to do some risk assessment to ensure there are no injuries that could occur. Raised beds could be helpful here as it will make weeding and digging less of a backbreaking activity. Adapted gardening tools which have easy-grip or extendable handles could make it easier too.

3. Playing garden games

You could set up a game of croquet, quoits, boules or skittles in the garden and encourage residents to get involved.

4. Windowsill gardening

While this could be carried out in a garden too, windowsill gardening lets those who can’t always get outdoors still enjoy gardening. It involves growing small plants, flowers or shrubs in window boxes or other small containers. It could be anything from lavender and sweet peas to growing cress in eggshells.

5. Flower arranging

Taking cuttings of fresh flowers and then arranging them can be a very relaxing and therapeutic activity. Kit your residents out with protective gloves, secateurs, a vase and some oasis and let them get creative.

6. Drying and pressing flowers

Another option for some freshly cut flowers is to dry them or press them. This works well with roses – simply hang the stems upside down and leave them for a few weeks. For smaller flowers and leaves, arrange them on some blotting paper, place another piece of paper on top and then cover the paper with heavy books and leave for a week.

7. Gardening related artwork

The garden can provide fantastic inspiration for art activities for your residents. Whether this is painting views of the garden with watercolours, or using leaves to create collages or for printing.

8. Watering the plants

Activities that are productive and provide a sense of purpose are great for people with dementia as it makes them feel useful and involved – a feeling that can be trickier to achieve as their cognition declines. Helping to water the plants is a very easy activity and can be done from a chair or wheelchair if needed. If they lack arm strength, consider using a garden hose or mini watering can as they will be easier to manoeuvre.

9. Birdwatching

Connecting with our outdoor space and taking the time to observe birds and wildlife can be extremely beneficial for residents, particularly for those who are living with dementia. The quiet, calming nature of bird watching can help lower anxiety, while the colourful sights and distinctive sounds provide sensory stimulation.

Bird watching can also be a valuable reminiscence activity, with the appearance of certain species and the sounds of bird song evoking memories which can also help residents recall their love of nature. For a bigger challenge, you could set up a care home chicken coop – hen therapy has been well established as a way of boosting mood and providing meaningful activities in a care home.

10. Raking up leaves

When autumn comes round, raking and gathering dead leaves up could be a satisfying job that gets people outdoors. Be mindful that the weather may be a bit chilly so ensure that residents are wrapped up warmly.