Last year my company was contracted to install an indoor edible herb garden at a senior living facility in Frederick, Md.

Nearby, setting on a couch in the activity room where the installation was taking place, was a nonresponsive man that suffered a stroke a few months ago, sitting next to his wife who was visiting.  His wife said, “Do I smell basil? My husband loves basil. I used to cook with it all the time.”

Of course, I immediately walk over to the couch and handed her the basil plant.  Instantly, her husband became alert; with a smile, as bright as the sun cascading through the blinds.  His wife was awestruck and said, “I told you he loves basil and look he is back to me,” as loving, tender tears ran down her cheeks.

I witness miracles like this with people connecting to plants on a weekly basis through the therapeutic-sensory gardening programs I offer to senior living facilities for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Maryland.

What is sensory gardening?

All plants appeal to our senses in one way or another.  Every plant has its own characteristics to tantalize our different senses through their array of colors, textures and smells. Sensory gardening is a garden environment that is designed to maximize and stimulate all the senses. The stimulation occurs courtesy of the plants and the use of materials that engage the senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and sound.

There are a wealth of reasons, research, studies and facts that shows our connection to plants and why connecting to certain plants can promote memory, and cogitative functioning naturally and effectively.

  • A Rutgers University found that plants and flowers are natural and healthful companions for moderating happy moods.
  • The physical activity associated with gardening helps to lower the risk of dementia. A recent study found that those who gardened regularly had a 36% to 47% lower risk for developing dementia then non-gardener
  • A study out of the Netherlands found that people who garden have a better view on life and the people around them. The study also showed that people who are around plants exhibit lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in our bodies.

I am on a quest to have sensory gardening programs in senior living facilities across America, but I sincerely need your assistance.  If you have a loved one living in a facility that does not have a gardening program please, encourage them to establish one.  If you are in the industry of senior living care, suggest a gardening program or if you know someone that works in the field, please share this article.

The connection plants have with people is undeniable. Connecting with plants is natural, effective, loving and healthy.

Cathy Allen is an award-winning Urban Environmentalist, the co-creator of G.R.A.S.S. (Growing Resources After Sowing Seed) as well as Chair of the “Grow-It Eat It” campaign. G.R.A.S.S. is an environmental entrepreneurial nonprofit program based on the fundamentals of gardening, agriculture and ecology. In conjunction with Baltimore City Public Schools, Allen’s campaign has planted over a half-million trees on the lawns of Baltimore City public schools.


Cathy Allen

AFRO Science Writer