People affected by dementia and volunteers at the Alive gardening allotment

Enabling people with dementia to enjoy gardening and being outdoors

Gardens can be hives of activity as well as havens of peace. One Bristol charity is enabling people with dementia to enjoy all aspects of garden life.

Alive is a Bristol-based charity that’s run gardening sessions for people with dementia and others for more than 10 years. 

The sessions highlight the positive impact that gardening can have on people’s mental and physical health. 

Since 2021, Alive has also run a dementia-friendly allotment in Brentry, north Bristol. 

There, people living with dementia enjoy organised gardening activities, or sit back and benefit from the sights and sounds of nature over a cup of tea.

Three people enjoying gardening with Bristol charity, Alive.

‘Happy place’

Karen and her mother-in-law Bruna, who has Alzheimer’s, have been regulars at the allotment since it began. 

They’re part of a growing community of people with dementia and carers who do a little light gardening or simply enjoy being there. 

Karen describes it as Bruna’s ‘happy place’. 

Isobel Jones, CEO of Alive, says more than 150 people with dementia and their carers have visited it for special weekly sessions since it opened. 

‘Normally we have two weekly sessions from March to November, and one from December to February. In the summer about 20–30 people visit, but this number is smaller in winter. 

‘Activities range from planting and harvesting to visitors sitting down with friends and having a cup of tea. 

We have one lady who comes and just waters the plants. That’s all she does, but it all needs doing, and it gives her a purpose and puts a smile on her face.

Meaningful activity 

As well as its dementia-friendly allotment, Alive offers other meaningful activities in care homes and with community groups. 

‘Guided reminiscence’ uses familiar items that might mean something to an older person, such as a postcard or holiday snap as a way of reconnecting to their past. 

‘Variety hour’ might involve playing music to get residents up and engaged. Poetry is another option. 

‘Growing support’ sessions take the garden to a care home rather than the care home resident to the garden. 

Accessible kit, trays, plant pots and various other gardening equipment are brought in, opening doors to communication with the residents. 

‘Wellbeing in nature’ sessions take place at the allotment. They’re based on the idea that, if you have dementia and feel anxious, then being in nature can calm you and make you feel more positive. 

There are also one-to-one sessions at the allotment, where people are led through gardening activities with a guide. These are important as larger groups do not suit everyone.

A couple sit on a bench at the Alive allotment wearing sun hats

Working its magic 

Back at the allotment, Karen and Bruna are now regulars and Karen sees the many advantages of their weekly visits. 

‘We usually attend once a week all year although during the summer months, when there are more sessions, there is the opportunity to go twice a week. 

The sessions last for two hours, although we are often there longer as we linger over a cuppa and biscuits at the end whilst enjoying a chat with other people attending. If given the chance, I think Bruna would go every day. 

‘Whatever Bruna’s mood on arrival, she always leaves with a smile on her face. Before she moved into a care home last year, she often felt anxious and a visit to the allotment never failed to work its magic and calm her. 

‘These sessions have also been beneficial to me too. Besides making new friends, it’s been an opportunity to learn from others with more experience of dementia.’ 

True to its name, Alive is a living, growing charity and Isobel says there are plans for further growth. 

We have another allotment planned for early 2024. Our new allotment will be in the south of the city, in Brislington.

It seems very soon Bristol people with dementia like Bruna may have not one but two happy places to visit. 

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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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