Many people these days are living on smaller blocks than was typical in the past, and many older people who have been keen gardeners all their lives are choosing to move into courtyard homes in retirement. There can be a lot of grief associated with leaving behind large gardens, especially if they will not be maintained by their new owners.
Gardens need to be front and centre when planning a downsized home for older gardeners. Those who can stay active in the garden, and particularly those who can continue growing some of their own food, are likely to be happier and healthier in retirement.
Here are a few suggestions to ease the transition from a much-loved garden to a new, smaller one…
- Make a ‘wish list’ of garden features as well as house features and take it with you when house-hunting.
- Ahead of time, take cuttings and collect seed from favourite in-ground plants to propagate for a new home.
- Plan for continued access to the garden in the event of illness or injury… e.g. consider wider garden paths with suitable surfaces in case you suddenly grow wheels or become wobbly… include raised garden beds to minimise digging and bending later on.
- Factor in some garden help (e.g. pruning, weeding) for tasks that are harder on your body and save energy for those you enjoy most.
- Design the garden to reduce physical labour and risk – e.g. design out the need to use ladders.
- Plan how to fit plenty of the things you love into a small space, e.g. dwarf fruit trees; multi-grafts; vertical stacking, green walls and container growing – but be careful not to clutter the new space and increase the risk of falls!
- Take photos of your old garden at its most beautiful and frame them to decorate your new home – you can still have the view!
- Stay active in other ways (e.g. yoga, tai chi, swimming, walking and cycling) to maintain gardening muscles and joints and to reduce the risk of injuries.
- If you just have to take a favourite tree with you, prune it back hard and use a spade to cut around the rootball well ahead of time, treating it to seaweed extract and generous watering to promote healthy new roots ready to take hold in its new location.
- Select trees that will fruit in a relatively short time (generally grafted cultivars rather than seedlings) so your garden can be up and running as soon as possible.
- Include a comfortable sitting place in your garden design – one that invites you to enjoy rest breaks now and then.
- Don’t expect to continue gardening in exactly the same way you have always done. You may discover simpler, lighter, or faster ways of achieving the results you want, if you approach this opportunity with an open mind. This particularly applies to tools – while old, well-made tools can last a lifetime, some well-designed new tools can be much more comfortable to use – and would be an ideal housewarming gift when friends and family want to know what to give the retiree who “already has everything”!
If you have a family member who is downsizing their home and garden – or whose existing garden needs a helping hand – consider a gift voucher for a design consultation or garden maintenance.