Dirty hands needed

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Gardening is magic. Gardening is mindfulness. Gardening is therapist, physician and personal trainer without spandex or a copay. And now researchers have confirmed that gardening can help nursing home patients suffering with dementia. 

Why is it so therapeutic? As peaceful revolutionary and fellow bald guy Mohandas Gandhi explained, “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” 

My question to long-term care operators, and I ask it with the gentleness and non-judgment of a soothing mist on a thirsty tomato plant: Where are all the gardens?

 “Gary, Gary, quite contrary,” I hear you answering. “If you visited Sunset Oaks at Twilight Meadows sometime, you would see our impressive row of raised garden beds with easy wheelchair access.” I'm very glad to hear that and will note it in your file, but I fear you're in the minority. 

Gardens used to be everywhere. The hanging gardens in ancient Babylonian nursing homes presented many safety issues that were frequently cited by King Nebuchadnezzar's surveyors. But about the time television and frozen dinners were invented, gardening lost its bloom.

No one knows exactly how many nursing homes have gardens, but I've been to enough to know there aren't enough. One exception I saw recently was a campus near Seattle with not only raised beds, but also a clear view of Puget Sound. It was an embarrassment of riches.

You might not have an ocean-view property with acres to spare, but you've got room for some planter boxes. You don't need a lot, just enough space and soil for your residents to get their hands in. They need it. It's therapy.

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair,” said poet Khalil Gibran.

See? Not only are we made to work the dirt, but the dirt loves it, too. 

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