Use these four tips to design gardens and landscapes that meet the needs of your senior clients. The need for safety, along with exercise and social connection, are critical to creating the best landscape for a healthy and active outdoor living environment.

1. Keep containers light.

Patty Cassidy, a Portland horticultural therapist and author of two leading senior gardening books, emphasizes using lightweight container pots in senior landscapes. “Use plastic or fiberglass vs. real clay pots,” she explains. “Use polystyrene beads for soil substitute about a third of the way up so it’s not all heavy soil. Also, place pots on wheeled trolleys so seniors can move them around on their own.”

Plants that attract birds and butterflies are especially therapeutic for seniors. Photo: iStock

Plants that attract birds and butterflies are especially therapeutic for seniors. Photo: iStock

2. Add edibles and butterfly- and bird-attracting plants for additional interest.

Cassidy stresses the importance of incorporating edibles and butterfly and songbird attractors into senior garden plant choices. “For vegetables, it’s better to plant beans on trellises rather than bush varieties so seniors don’t have to stoop over,” she says. “Fruits, such as grapes and raspberries, should be trained to grow up trellises. When it comes to fruit trees, columnar apples, sour cherries and Asian pears are good examples of smaller, more compact and prolific edibles. Plants that attract birds and butterflies are especially therapeutic for seniors, including those bearing cones, nectar, berries and nuts.”

3. Consider maintenance and plant characteristics when choosing a lawn.

When it comes to lawns, knowing the physical capabilities and limitations of your senior clients is the most important factor. “If the client is physically able to maintain a lawn, then the planning can be designed around how much time they want to invest in taking care of it,” says Curt Kiriu, owner and resident of CM Independent Living Builders. “Regardless of their physical capabilities, seniors should have a slow growth type of lawn with a short blade which may reduce the risks of tripping or falling from an uneven plane and is water-resource friendly.”

4. Lighting is important for safe passage through the landscape at night.

Senior-friendly experts emphasize the use of effective landscape lighting as a crucial factor in senior landscapes, including the installation of motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and along driveways and pathways. “If the entry and exit hardscape leads to the driveway or street, then weather-friendly light fixtures is preferred to illuminate the path,” says Kiriu. “Solar powered lights may not have sufficient lumens to light pathways sufficiently, especially during inclement weather.”