Gray and Green Revisited: A Multidisciplinary Perspective of
Gardens, Gardening, and the Aging Process
Scott D. Wright1and Amy Maida Wadsworth2
1Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-5880, USA
2Family and Consumer Studies Department, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA
Correspondence should be addressed to Scott D. Wright; firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 4 December 2013; Revised 25 January 2014; Accepted 27 January 2014; Published 6 March 2014
Academic Editor: Kee L. Chou
Copyright © 2014 S. D. Wright and A. M. Wadsworth. is is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is
Over fourteen years ago, the concept of “gray and green” was rst introduced by Wright and Lund (2000) to represent a new
awareness and a call for increased scholarship at the intersection of environmental issues and the aging process. is review paper
revisits that concept with a fresh perspective on the specic role of gardens and gardening in the aging experience. As example,
gardening is one of the most popular home-based leisure activities in the US and represents an important activity in the lives of
older adults in a variety of residential settings. Yet, there has been a lack of any comprehensive and multidisciplinary (science and
humanities) examination of the nexus between gardening and the aging experience, and in particular with research connections
to stewardship and caring. In this paper, we review contemporary articles demonstrating the multidisciplinarity of gardening and
the aging process. First, we will focus on the benecial psychological eects resulting from the cultivation of caring, including
personal contentmentand artist ic expression. S econd, we will focus on stewardship and how gardening increases health, community
awareness, and a connection to future generations. On the surface, this may demonstrate a separation between the humanities and
science, but we will clarify a symbiotic relationship between the two disciplines in our conclusion.
Over fourteen years ago, the concept of “gray and green”
was rst introduced by Wright and Lund asrepresenting
new awareness and call for increased scholarships at the
intersection of environmental issues and the aging process
[2–4]. An important dimension of that original article was
to bring more attention to the role of the natural environment
in contrast to the “built environment” in relation to successful
aging . is review paper revisits the concept of gray
and green with a fresh perspective using selected examples
from the literature on the specic role of gardens and
gardening as it enhances the aging experience. Although the
examination of the horticultural and human experience has
been previously examined, especially in the context of well-
being and social development [6,7] and in the lives of the
elderly , this review paper oers a more contemporary
perspective on the increasing number of publications since
the early 1990s that have addressed gardening, gardens, and
aging, particularly since the emergence of the “gray and
green” publication in the year 2000 .
Gardening is one of the most popular home-based leisure
activities in the US and represents a signicant and salient
activity in the lives of older adults [9–15]. e National
Gardening Association claimed that 80% of US households
tended to plants, which represented an increase of 65% from
the year 1996 . e 55- to 64-year-old age group was the
cohort that spent the most on horticultural products and
services and this trend will most likely continue with aging
baby-boomers [16,17]. Some have proposed that there is an
new calling in life for many aging individuals. is trend
is supported by the growing interest in the organic food
movement for both environmental and health-conscious
However, it is proposed in this paper that gardening may
represent a facet of a much deeper gerontological connection
between the natural environment, well-being, legacy, sense
Hindawi Publishing Corporation
Journal of Aging Research
Volume 2014, Article ID 283682, 13 pages
2Journal of Aging Research
of meaning, and interpersonal connections to community
and larger social structures . e functional allure of
gardens and gardening in the later years is the result of
multiple factors: historical, aesthetic, cultural, generational,
psychological, and physiological factors. It is the premise of
this paper that there is much more to the nexus of gardening
and aging than a favorite pastime, hobby, or a task aligned
with passive drudgery. For example, in the book, Gardening
for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older,the
author Eddison  believes gardening can become a joy-
lled activity in later life even with the onset of comorbidities
and chronic conditions associated with advancing age, if
the gardener considers adopting wise alternatives to high
maintenance practices in the garden. Gardening and gardens
represent an important facet of the gray and green concept
where the interaction with horticulture and landscaping is
a holistic experience for a “mind-body-spirit” connection
. is interactive connection is further highlighted by
representative books such as Patricia Cassidy’s e Age
Proof Garden and e Illustrated Practical Guide to Gardening
into retirement and beyond, where the focus is on gardening
and the aging experience, but as an adaptive process that
understands and appreciates the benets of gardening, but
with adjustments in maintenance and goals in the older
In this paper, we review contemporary articles demon-
strating the multidisciplinarity of gardening and the aging
process. First, we will focus on the benecial psychological
eects resulting from the cultivation of caring, including
personal contentment and artistic expression. To do this,
we will reference contemporary editions of classic texts to
explore the still-relevant implications of historical gardening
themes and allegories. We will also discuss aging painters,
writers, and lmmakers to demonstrate how the theme
of gardening permeates the aging experience in various
expressions of human adaptation, creativity, and existential
Second, we will focus on stewardship and how gardening
increases health, community awareness, and represents a
connection with future generations. Most importantly, we
advocate the premise that gardens and gardening represent
an important bridge to connect the aging experience to the
natural world where stewardship, caring, and well-being are
On the surface, this multidisciplinary focus may demon-
strate anity for C.P. Snow’s Two Cultur es and a separation
between the humanities and science, but we will clarify a
symbiotic relationship between the two disciplines in our
2. Process and Procedure for
the Selected Literature Review
e literature was systematically reviewed for relevant and
peer-reviewed journals, books, and book chapters as well
as contemporary annotated releases of classic and modern
literature such as oreau’s Wa lden and Virgil’s Georgics.
journal book reviews, published journal article references,
and Google Scholar and through the Amazon.com search
tool. To generate a list of selected articles (as of January 12,
2014) for the paper, searches were done in four electronic
databases: PsychINFO, PubMed, ProQuest, and Scopus. e
search strategy was complemented by inspecting the included
PsychINFO, PubMed, ProQuest, and Scopus as the databases
to conduct searches in the literature and establish a conver-
tools. e review was primarily grounded in a Scopus query
algorithm to establish corroboration of relevant publications
and to generate analytics for the primary search terms
(gardening and aging ).Scopus is a large abstract and citation
database of research literature and web sources representing
50 million records, 21,000 titles, and 5,000 publishers. e
search using Scopus was conducted through a university
system (retrieved January 12, 2014) and it is considered to
have a robust index and coverage of publications. e Scopus
search for (gardening AND aging) in ALL elds in journals
from 1990 to Present resulted in 492 document results and
the analytics revealed a modest increase in the total number
of documents for this query by year since 1990 to the search
in January 12, 2014. When using the limiter “Article title,
Abstract, Keywords” (i.e., TITLE-ABS-KEY) default in the
query, the search resulted in 66 document results. A thorough
examination was conducted of the 66 documents retrieved
from Scopus and then articles were selected for relevancy and
content anity to the main themes of this paper.
3. How Does Your Garden Grow?
Definitions, History, and Purposes
For many people, the word “garden” can evoke varied
emotions and leaps of cognitive associations. According
to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “garden” can be
approached and treated as a noun and dened as, “a piece of
ground adjoining a house, used for growing owers, fruits,
or vegetables,” and as a modier such that, gardens can
represent “ornamental grounds laid out for public enjoyment
and recreation.” . e OED also recognizes that one
as a “gardener” (noun), by having “gardened” (verb). ese
distinctions serve as a basis for the reader to consider the
intersection of the aging process with gardens and gardening,
which can be active and passive, functional and aesthetic,
and subjective and objective. For example, the term, “garden”
may signify many things that have little to do with cultivating
vegetables and owers and instead, as example, focus on
landscaping as gardening with nature . Or some may
immediately think of an entertainment/sports venue (e.g.,
Madison Square Garden); a biblical setting (e.g., e Garden
of Eden) or some historical wonder of the world (e.g., e
Hanging Gardens of Babylon); or pieces of literature such
as e Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges or the
lm e Constant Gardener directed by Fernando Meirelles
Journal of Aging Research 3
(based on the novel by John le Carre); or exotic paintings
like e Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.
For others, “garden” may represent the Butchart Gardens
in Greater Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada, or Zen
rock garden of the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan [23–25].
In the sociological domain, gardens have served as a focal
point for assessing collectivist and bureaucratic cultures in
context of the “urban gardening movement” , and more
recently as a practice to engage in the illicit cultivation of
someone else’s land known as “guerrilla gardening” . In
the historical domain, there were the “Victory Gardens” in
series, “e Victory Garden.” But for many people, a garden
can simply be a plot of soil as close as your backyard and as
modest as raised box with a few marigolds and tomato plants.
us, as Ross [28–39] has noted, trying to pinpoint an exact
denition of gardens is daunting given the kaleidoscopic
variations of gardens across many cultures and geographies.
For example, Pizzoni hasadvocatedthat“gardens can be
thought of as a place set aside for multiple uses such associated
with horticulture and the cultivation of plants for food and
medicinal herbs but it can also be seen as an expression of
ornamental, religious and even political purposes”(see also
advance a similar understanding of gardens and gardening
and the aging experience but broaden the horizon such that
health and well-being can be derived as a benet, and this
includes the psychological expression in our main premise:
to be generative, to cultivate, to care is both utilitarian and
sacred and nds its joyful expression in the reverential duty in
3.1. Humanities Discipline: How Gardens and Gardening Cul-
tivate Caring and a Personal Connection with Life and Nature.
e word “garden” may conjure memories of warm, fertile
dirt in your hands, the smell of blossoms, the sound of bees
collecting pollen, or the beautiful, ourishing sight of what
humans and nature can accomplish together. Gardens are
experienced through the senses, and therefore, the psycho-
logical assimilation of a garden and all it may represent is
highly personal. It is no wonder, then, that a deep personal
understanding of life results from such communion with
nature and may translate into the expression of self through
For example, the interrelationship between painting and
the use of garden as motif or actual object for inspiration
represents an important, intense, and intimate thread in the
history of art and reinforces the sensory connection between
human and garden. ere is perhaps the most spectacular
and enigmatic work of Hieronymus Bosch and his haunting
imagery associated with the triptych, Garden of Earthly
Delights.e Garden of Earthly Delights was painted around
age , although he lived well into the mid-sixties of life.
Garden of Earthly Delights is the middle panel of the triptych
and captures sinful pleasures in a garden-like setting where
can bring to mind primeval fountains of youth. Compared
to the panel “Paradise” which depicts a more balanced
ecosystem of sorts, the middle panel is awash in people, and
the garden appears to be magically self-sustaining with little
human activity involved in maintenance or cultivating its rich
resources for all. And indeed, there are no children to be
ageless. is is a presentation of a carefree world where the
garden serves as a symbolic Utopia and humankind resides
in paradise untouched by the “Fall” . Of course, it is
the other panel, Hell, which exacts the most hallucinatory
experience and presentation of nightmarish gures. Perhaps,
we can think of that desperate landscape, like T.S. Eliot’s
waste land, as a reminder of where there are repercussions for
engaging careless activities that did not take into account the
stewardship clause when residing in the Garden of Eden. We
reap what we sow, but in this case the “Fall” may represent
itself when all was spent in the present and little eort was
taken to cultivate for the next season, or the next generation,
thus leading to the hellish demise of humanity.
In direct contrast is the work of Claude Monet, who
is considered as one of the founders of style of painting
known as French Impressionism, lived a remarkable eighty-
six years of life that spanned across two centuries (from
1840 to 1926). Monet proved to be extremely productive with
creating some of his most famous paintings into his later
years and along with other many other painters (e.g., Henri
Matisse, Rembrandt, and Georgia O’Keefe) he has been the
subject of research examining creative and artistic style and
Many people are certainly aware of the vast array of
Monet’s work and many can also readily identify the unique
style and composition of his paintings, such that, for example,
when examining water lilies with rich textures or admiring
irises with saturated colors, we come to think that those
owering plants are virtually synonymous with his portfolio
of art. But then again many people may not know that those
own home and garden located in Giverny, France. Monet was
both painter and gardener and he spent the last 43 years of his
long life with his close-knit family by cultivating his passion
for creating color with owering plants on a one-hectare
(2.5 acre) garden site and then capturing the dynamic and
uid presence of those plants onto his canvas with brushwork
and oils . But his garden would also be a healing and
therapeutic oasis that helped him cope and adjust to the loss
of his second wife and his son Jean. Monet was reported as
saying, “My most important work of art is my garden”.
work almost entirely on depicting his garden and was then
commissioned by the state to create a remarkable large format
series of paintings of water-lilies (Grandes Decorations), his
tour de force, that formed an enveloping circle that was to
reside in a specially constructed pavilion in the Mus´
ee de l
Orangerie, which was an extension to the Louvre [47,48].
Around the age of 74, Monet only painted summer subjects
in his garden and during the winter months he worked in his
but he was then diagnosed with a cataract in his right eye and
eventually would come to aect both eyes. Despite his visual
impairments, Monet proclaimed in 1920, “I’m extremely busy
4Journal of Aging Research
with my garden; it’s such a joy to me, and on ne days like those
Monet continued to paint but his deteriorating eyesight
caused him severe problems in distinguished colors for many
of his nal years . While there have been many theoretical
arguments about whether the change in Monet’s paintings
of his garden was due to “late style” or specically due to
limitations in his vision, Marmor used medical knowledge
disabilities on perception. Marmor  demonstrated how
their preferred scenes or subjects changed due to disease,
which aected their style of painting [51–53]. And for Monet,
the loss of color perception due to his complications with
cataracts was a major problem (see [45,53,54]). As Marmor
 pointed out, Monet used his beloved garden landscape
to capture the nuances of color and light, “but his cataracts
severely changed and challenged the marvelous qualities of
color in his works” (p. 1769). Even though dierent eye
pathologies cause dierent visual limitations, we now know
how low vision can aect both the physical and mental well-
being of older adults and the ability to function in a variety of
activities of daily living (ADLS) and instrumental activities of
daily living (IADLS) [55,56]. Despite these challenges, Monet
stayed connected with the enchantment of his garden space,
and his paintings, especially of the water lilies, were his sense
is to embrace a larger cosmic sense of nature. Another part
of his legacy is his ability to engage this belief while facing
physical limitations and obstacles.
e conjunction of gardening and art is substantial and
includes mediums from painting to literature to lm. Readers
are encouraged to review the literary companion publication
of Simonds , Marranca’s anthology,andGarmey’s
edited book  for an introduction and extensive review
in this form of art. For a more contemporary nonction
perspective, Arthur Hellyer’s Yo ur Gar d en Week b y We ek ,
Jamaica Kincaid’s My Garden (Book) , Diane Ackerman’s
Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden ,
Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
, Caroline Holme’s New Shoots, Old Tips , Barbara
Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
, and Robert Fenton’s criticalreviewine New York
Review of Books are highly recommended.
When it comes to dedication to gardening, many people
will think of one of the best-selling American nonction
classics, Wal d e n by oreau [66,67]. But while oreau had
to the soil, his stay at Walden was relatively short, a two-
year experiment into his late twenties, and then he le to
pursue other travels. If one wanted to nd a more “constant
gardener,” across the entire life course and into the retirement
years, we could better discuss omas Jeerson, Governor
of Virginia and Vice-president and President of the United
States, who was also an avid gardener. We are fortunate to
read of his observations and activities in gardening in a
publication titled, e Garden Book , which he began in
1776 and continued until the autumn of 1824, two years before
his death at the age of 83. e Garden Book is a remarkable
account of Jeerson’s meticulous note taking on his botanical
interests and indicated a devotion to the “culture of the earth.”
At the age of 68 years old, in a letter to a Charles Willson
Peale written in 1811 , omas Jeerson remarked that,
“But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”And
the theme of gardening continues as both therapeutic activity
and metaphor for life itself in the works of Hans Christian
Andersen; the garden became an allegory for his lifework
writing folk tales (“fairy tales”), which had more signicance
with the world of adulthood than for children. e folk tale,
“e Gardener and the Gentry” was written toward the end
of his career andtwoyearsbeforehisdeathin1872.euse
of gardening as a metaphor and allegory continues in the
Secret Garden , Charles Baudelaire’s LesFleursdumal
and Eliot’s imagery of the rose-garden in the Four Quartets
loss of Paradise within the cycles of life and death . e
Four Quartets were written over a span of several years (1935–
1942) and in the last quarter of Eliot’s life. In “Burnt Norton”
the rose-garden conveys memories and mythology of time
passing with human existence (mere moments) compared to
the history of humanity, civilization, and all that has gone
theme to address his understanding of his own life in his book
Memories, Dreams, Reections (1989). In 1957, at eighty-one
years of age, Jung began to work with Aniela Jae to complete
this major work before he died in 1961. e enlightening
seminal in its garden metaphor by picturing life individually
and collectively as sustaining and regenerative over the ages
(see also ).
When we think of the unending growth and decay
of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the
impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never
lost a sense of something that lives and endures
underneath the eternal ux. What we see is the
blossom, which passes. e rhizome remains (p.
Although Jung’s use of the rhizome metaphor supports
the philosophical impression of life as continuous and unend-
ing, despite the relentless seasons and centuries of time,
gardens are also very much transitory and impermanent. And
so while gardens can be perceived as being artistic , they
may not necessarily represent the outcome that matches the
Hippocratic dictum, “Life is short, art is long” (Ars longa,
for in an eort to outlast its caretaker, while on the other
hand, gardens exist to reenchant the present [75,76]. Yet,
one long-lasting medium for the expression of art is through
the vehicle of lm. Here we will examine the crossroads of
the use of garden imagery (symbolic and realistic) in relation
to the aging experience and focus on two exemplars: Wild
Strawberries and Dreams.
Wild Strawberries isthe1957lmbyBergman
that depicts the story of the aged Dr. Isak Borg who is
traveling in his car to receive an honorary degree. Erikson
 has provided a comprehensive analysis, based on his own
Journal of Aging Research 5
theoretical interpretation, of Bergman’s lm and it is here
that Erikson sees the emergent virtue of care as a necessary
strength for “thelifecycleaswellasthecycleofgenerations”
(p. 7). For example, Erikson noted that the tensions found
between Dr. Borg and Marianne (his daughter) and Borg’s
son Evald reect the core issues of generativity such that
it is Borg who must confront his own rejectivity and the
resulting lack of care and interest in his own family and
many others around him (see also ). e turning point
for Isak Borg, and obviously the primary inspiration for the
title of the lm, is when Dr. Borg leaves the main highway (his
journey of life) and drives down a side road to revisit an old
summer home (a chance for reminiscence and remembrance
remembers a specic location that would serve as catalyst for
a reawakening much like the Proustian madeleine, but in this
it is here that we nd a richly layered symbolism that involves
the magical transformation of the landscape surrounding the
home into blooming plants and trees and lush greenery. Even
though the lm is in black and white, one can almost imagine
that large yard as colorful as Monet’s gardens at Giverny. e
wild strawberries that grow along the side of the yard are
the triggering mechanism to transport Borg back through
time and allow him to revisit his own young adulthood in
relation to Sara, his “rst love.” In this lm, the bounty of the
earth in the form of wild strawberries is richly symbolic of
intimate relationships (with Sara) and the resulting isolation
and aloofness that made him think of himself as a “living
corpse.” Erikson oershisanalysisoftheArcadianscene,
“one senses that this whole earthy scene, beyond
its precious gaiety and its symbolic reference to
deoration, points to something primeval, some
garden, long forfeited by Isak” (p. 8).
At least from Erikson’s perspective, that small patch of
botanical life, the wild strawberries, is at once symbolic of the
epigenetic pathway and a crossroads through adulthood and
into the commitments of mature caring within mid and later
life. is theme shall become an important factor to consider
when we examine the role of stewardship as a dimension of
the “gray and green” concept for the aging experience.
Kurosawa, at the age of 80, directed and then released
the lm, Dreams , in 1990 (his 28th lm), which featured
several portrayals of Kurosawa’s own dreams experienced
feature two processions that symbolize the opening and
closing of the life cycle: a wedding and a funeral . e lm
also captures luminous sequences of botanical wonderment
and rural scenes of wheat elds (crows)withVanGogh(who
also loved gardens; see ) at work painting his landscapes
and other segments that portrayed the ruins of ecological
disasters and the break with nature. e last segment, “e
which captures a lush farm with blooming owers, lush green
grass, and crystal clear rivers that drive the watermills in a
wheel-like fashion. It is a “paradisiacal place: a village where
modern technology has not invaded people’s lives and they live
in harmony with nature”. e Kurosawa surrogate (the
younger man), while walking through the village, encounters
a 103-year-old man, who is working on a smaller water wheel
structure. e older man communicates the necessity of treat-
ing the land with respect and articulates the perils if it being
wisdom (a representation of Eriksonian “generativity”) to the
younger man is a critical link in the message of the segment
which highlights that working in harmony with the land helps
to create a natural cycle of living, and dying. e watermills
turn with the river of water, which provides nourishment for
the plants and the owers, which in turn the villagers use
lm, we are le watching a slow moving river current with
undulating clusters of long swirling stands of lush aquatic
plants swaying with the ow of water that reects multiple
colors on its surface, blues, greens, and the liquid silver of
indirect sunlight. Much like a Monet oil painting ,Wat er Lil i es,
and his Japanese Bridge over his pond.
ese artists demonstrate the ability to engage and
connect despite challenges—an ideal for any aging adult.
However, the process of disengagement seems to contra-
into himself, and rather than being a constant gardener,
he becomes isolated and trapped in his memory and his
past. An example of this is Grey Gardens, a documentary
so fascinating that it has been translated into a Broadway
(1976) such a lm would appear to be the perfect connecting
point for examining aging issues (“grey”) and gardens. But
the lm is less about gardening in the later years (per se)
and more about what was once cared for in relationships
with people, home, and landscape in the past has instead
fallen into a state of neglect due to the disconnect with
cultivating what is alive in the present. Grey Gardens is
actually the name of the decaying estate that belongs to
Edith Bouvier Beale (“Big Edie”) age 79 and her daughter
Edie (or “Little Edie”) in her ies, both frozen in time and
place, in an East Hampton home that is graying along with
them . In the early 1970s, their 28-room mansion was
found to be a health hazard and mother and daughter were
threatened with eviction. e lm opens up with Little Edie
telling the Maysles about what used to be in terms of the
beautiful and exotic gardens that once was . roughout
of vegetation, a landscape “gone wild,” that makes it appear
deserted, forlorn, and enveloped in an ivy-snarled ruin. In
Grey Gardens there actually is a man who is introduced as
the “gardener” at the beginning of the lm, but it is clear
that the intruding jungle of vegetation is overwhelming to
him. As the mother and daughter live in the past, the present
landscape is removed from care and attention and nature
encroaches and erodes the house. Aer years of neglect,
raccoons move into the attic, ivy presses through window
seals, and cats continue to reproduce and turn every room
into a new wing of a sprawling litter box. e two women
two of them share, warming canned goods on a hotplate near
Big Edi’s bed. Decay envelops what was once lush, beautiful,
6Journal of Aging Research
and a welcoming example of cooperation between nature
and human interaction. Harrison  succinctly stated the
connection between the need for constant gardening in the
face of our obligations to the here and now, “If we are not able
world, heaven and salvation are vain” (p. 11).
Gardening, then, is not just a hobby or a task meant to
is eort against entropy. It is the cooperation between nature
and humanity, ne-tuned through experience and nurturing.
Gardening is age and wisdom.
mind, but it’s true worth manifests as wisdom is shared. e
artistic examples referenced here are not just means of self-
expression, they are bridges from individual understanding
to community stewardship and care. e proper starting
point for this discussion of art bridging personal wisdom and
community should be with Virgil’s Georgics.Virgil(70BCE-
19 BCE) wrote the poem Georgics (the word Georgics refers to
primarily to “farming”) during the 30s BCE and this would
at the peak of his senior status in the understanding of the
life course at that time but perhaps not senectus yet .
Georgics is a didactic and very much a template and design
for interacting with the land and being attentive to what
Ferry  noted as Virgil’s ability to engage the “ecstatic
and tender celebrations of the very life in things,” and more
importantly how these “celebrations” interact with human
existence (see also ). In the Georgics,onecanappreciate
Virgil’s attentiveness to the cycles of seasons, and the cycle of
birth and death, and the inevitable unfolding of sickness and
aging. Virgil’s Georgics emphasizes that through care of the
land, we begin to care for each other, and from there follow
the arts and cultural blossoming and the resulting harvesting
In the fourth Georgic, Virgil writes of an old man who is at
work on his small patch of land that was at one time not fertile
enough to be plowed by oxen, but with his dedicated attention
it has been transformed. e lines in this vignette are less
didactic and more poetic in the sheer strength of the action
and sensuality by use of vivid descriptions of the labor that
is needed for all the seasons . Quint hasproposed
inhisreviewofthenewtranslationsofGeorgics by and
Lembke that,“the old gardener thus carries some of the
poem’s political hopes as well as its ethical message. From a life
of turmoil, he has settled into quiet usefulness and contentment,
beauty in his ower garden, an analogue to the poem itself”
An overarching theme throughout the Georgics is the
didactic lesson of “as you sow, so shall you reap.” e lesson
is that progress towards happiness and well-being is highly
dependent on the service that you have rendered to the
land, kith and kin, to neighbors and to community. And
it all begins in your backyard. us, gardening serves as
the cornerstone of civilization-that is, to care,constantly.
Harrison  has succinctly woven these themes together by
stating, “e true gardener is always ‘the constant gardener”
3.2. Science Discipline: How Gardens and Gardening Increase
Stewardship, Community Awareness, and a Connection to
Future Generations and Individual Health. e constant gar-
dener cares for and nurtures nature, community, and future
generations to come. Gardens not only provide rejuvenation
of plant life and the aging individual, but also inject life and
vitality into the community. Here, we examine two prime
examples of the “gray and green” concept where the “green”
eect of gardens and gardening can instill the potential
for stewardship toward not only one’s backyard, but toward
a much larger sphere of environmental concern and care
directed “outward” in the form of legacy, community, and
welfare for future generations. Gardens and gardening can
also provide a direct benet through the restorative impact of
either interacting with and in the garden as a physical activity
or that the presence of a garden itself as a sensory experience
can enhance well-being and health.
If the lesson from the Georgics is that community begins
in the backyard, it is no wonder that thoughts turn to residen-
tial landscaping and lawn care while thinking of communities
and gardens. Lawn care has been the most prevalent form
of gardening nationwide. However, this dimension has been
going through its own transformation and redenition as
many more people are looking to redene the “lawn” into
a more environmental friendly and regionally appropriate
sion of gardens [35,91]. Brown and Jameton have
indicated that there are numerous benets for the increase
and support of gardening: food security and nutritional
the cost of purchasing food), positive eects on physical
health (as exercise), and overall community improvement
(to enhance social capital; it can serve as a community
organizing tool to combat poverty and provide a collective
response to blighted city neighborhoods) and as a way
of raising consciousness about environmental stewardship.
Brown and Jameton alsosuggestvariouscommunity-
based policy recommendations to encourage urban gar-
den activities because, “Urban gardening raises our public
awareness of the need to safeguard our environment, and
especially our urban soils, from future pollution, erosion, and
neglect” (p. 33). More specically to older adults, Ashton-
Shaeer et al.  discovered many motivational factors for
gardening in their investigation. For example, they found
signicant dierences among older adults by marital status,
education, and health status in terms of motivational cat-
egories. e two most important categories were physical
tness and creativity. Similarly, Wang and Glicksman 
reported that low-income minority older adults expressed
several motivations and benets of community gardening.
For example, Wang and Glicksman identied nine themes of
why older adults chose to participate in gardening: mental
health benets, the end product (fruits and vegetables), con-
tinuation of a past life, something to do/responsibility, beauty
and connection to growth, connecting with others, physical
health, learning something new, and helping each other out
ange and Ivano  also discovered mixed results
with gardening in men and women aged 80–89 in Sweden.
Journal of Aging Research 7
ange and Ivano indicated that while gardens provided
for older adults, having a garden to take care of could be
a “considerable practical burden and was something that
bothered the very old peoples’ minds” (p. 342). In contrast,
Pettigrew and Roberts haveproposedintheirstudythat
gardening had served as an eective way for older adults
to ameliorate the experience of loneliness and feelings of
emotional isolation. Gardening was also identied as a mech-
tiotemporally establishing biographical continuity between
older Chinese immigrants in their new lives in New Zealand
We also know that gardening can serve as a “bridge-
building” activity for enhancing intergenerational coopera-
tion in community settings [96–100]andthatitcanrepresent
a form of legacy in older adults  and serve as a mecha-
nism to engage in “successful aging” .
e phrase “successful aging” recollects Monet and his
ability to continue producing art despite his failing eyesight.
e aging process requires adaptation and the ability to
approach tasks in a dierent, more sustainable way. ere
are research ndings to indicate gardening as an activity
to enhance the physical and emotional well-being for older
. For example, Infantino  found that the gardening
experience had sustained older women in their cognitive and
spiritual development. Heliker et al. foundthathorticul-
tural projects (consisting of 12 weeks of interactive gardening
classes) were instrumental in increasing a sense of psycho-
logical well-being in racial and culturally diverse groups.
ey also found that gardening helped to instill a deeper
sense of legacy and spirituality and a deeper relationship
with the earth and nature in the older participants. Quandt
et al.  explored the nutritional role of “food sharing”
among a diverse set of older rural adults and also highlighted
the “social meaning” in such activities as well. Similarly,
Milligan et al.  found that older adults beneted from
social isolation and contributed to the development of social
networks. An additional benet of aective restoration from
stress was found among adults (mean age 57.6) in an exper-
imental study comparing gardening to indoor reading .
e authors noted that gardening may permit people to enjoy
the restorative eects of nature on a regular basis. In another
related study, Hawkins et al. discoveredthatallotment
gardeners appreciated “doing” gardening activity as well as
“being” at the allotment landscape for aording a wide range
of benets to their health and being, specically in stress
Gardening as an activity to improve the quality of life
for older adults has generated a substantial number of
publications that address gardening as a physical activity
for older adults that may facilitate healthy aging [14,15,
110–112]andasaninterventionwithindoor gardening and
horticultural therapy for institutional populations [15,113–
129]. e intersection of gray and green is also reected in
the paradigmatic shi of “e Eden Alternative” in managing
long-term care facilities [130,131]. For example, Lee and
Kim  found that indoor gardening was found to be
eective for improving several dimensions of sleep patterns,
decreasing agitation, and improving cognition functioning
of dementia patients (see also ). ere are also sig-
nicant publications on outdoor gardening activities for
for persons with dementia , and the importance of
“patient-specic gardens” for the restorative eects of nature
. Goto et al. concluded that organized gardens can
positively aect both mood and cardiac physiology of elderly
individuals . Gardening has also been identied as a
potential activity to incorporate into fall prevention programs
as gardeners reported signicantly better balance and gait
speed and had fewer chronic conditions and functional
limitations than nongardeners . However, both Kwak
et al. andLarnerhavealsosuggestedthatmany
cognitive abilities may be required for successful gardening
and horticultural activities and that if gardening is being
considered as a component for intervention and therapy for
dementia patients, an individual approach that is customized
to abilities and decits and the various symptoms may be
In Valliant’s  monumental study of aging and well-
being, Aging Well, he ended with a chapter titled, “Positive
Aging: A Reprise,” and in that section there was the creative
metaphor that captured the nuances of growing older as akin
to gardening or, more precisely, the lessons learned in being
a gardener could serve as a positive role model for nding
fulllment in later life.
Among the many positive attributes, Valliant proposed
that gardening is an activity that encourages a therapeutic
slowness [142,143] and brings with it the additional benet of
creating opportunities for introspection and reection (that
you should stop and “smell the roses”) and that it encourages
hallmark and dening positive attribute of the aging process
. We are reminded of Shakespeare’s lament, “sweet
owers are slow and weeds make haste” which all but exudes
the wisdom of living a long and cultivating the rewards
of a life well-lived and cared for. Valliant also proclaimed
that gardeners are very much in the spirit of generativity
and symbolically working (i.e., being concerned and having
responsibility); the soil is embedded with the meaning of
rebirth and regeneration, stewardship, and the essence of
cultivating for the next cycle of life . And with this
kind of care, there is the potential for the legacy of caritas,
avita activa, and a vocation of care transmitted through the
generations. us, as Valliant succinctly states it, “ere is a
kind of immortality about gardens, at least until next spring
and the spring aer that”(p.309).
Not only does Valliant make reference to Cicero and
the ancient Roman tradition of viniculture as an honorable
activity for aging, he revisits the famous line from Voltaire’s
Candide  where aer many journeys, hardships and
mishaps and a great deal of theorizing, Candide instructs
Pangloss, “We should cultivate our gardens.” a t p i t h y p h i l o -
sophical statement was craed by Candide and inspired from
an earlier encounter with an old man who was sitting outside
his house “mindinghisownbusiness” and taking in the day
8Journal of Aging Research
and enjoying the “fruits of his labor.” i s e n c o u n t e r s o u n d s
very familiar to a similar story of the old man previously
mentioned in Virgil’s Georgics.In Voltaire’s novel, the old
man knew little of worldly aairs and events but graciously
oered Candide, Pangloss and Martin a sumptuous meal of
exotic fruits and nuts that were grown on his farm. Candide
assumed the old man must have some vast and magnicent
estate, but the old man said, “Ihaveonlytwentyacresand
I cultivate them with my children; and my work keeps at
bay three great evils: boredom, vice and need.”Ittooka
while, but Candide had suddenly become a fast learner.
existence compared to anything else they had encountered
tance of gardening in the lives of older adults by highlighting
the work of Bhatti  who found that the presence of and
the interaction with gardens can have a major signicance
in the (re)creation of “home” in later life. In addition to the
benets of physical activity [13–15,110,147] there is the added
dimension of what the garden symbolizes psychologically
as a meaningful reason for existence, or as one older adult
expressed it, “when I’m in the garden I can create my own
sensory qualities of gardens and gardening and the per-
sonal spirit-mind-body benets to cooperation between man
and nature. Personal well-being oen translates into artis-
tic expression, whether it is through painting, literature,
lm, or the act of gardening itself. is artistic expression
benets communities and creates a legacy for the aging
adult while providing physical and mental health benets.
e give-and-take between nature and individual, individual
and community, and community and nature is ongoing
and rejuvenating. Science and the humanities continue in
a symbiotic relationship just as nature and human beings
do, and this cooperation is vital to the well-being of aging
individuals and of every human being at any stage of
We should cultivate our gardens, but what is it exactly
about gardens and gardening that would supply meaningful
signicance to the life course, and particularly to the aging
process? What is the connection between gardening and care
and well-being? e analysis of the scientic validity of the
health benets of gardening for older adults has been aptly
analyzed by Wang and MacMillan  and they correctly
conclude that there is a need for larger-scale studies using
probability samples and combined methodologies to develop
a more comprehensive understanding of the nuances with
gardening and the aging experience. While the systematic
review of Wang and MacMillan focused on the merits of
gardening in the domain of connections to family and
community and cultures, we would submit that the additional
connection to the natural environment—the gray and green
concept—is worthy of sustained investigation as well, espe-
cially as it relates to larger macrodynamics of legacy, sustain-
ability, generativity, and intergenerational support and caring
4. Synopsis and Conclusions to
the Review Paper
ciplinary nodes of gardening and the aging experience and
to examine two specic issues: (a) gardening as a signicant
activity to engage the cultivation of caring across the life
course, and (b) as a way to enhance the notion of stewardship
in supporting environmental health in the context of home
and community based settings. Based on the review of the
selected literature and the examination of various multidis-
ciplinary perspectives, we can propose that gardens and gar-
dening represent multidimensional phenomena in the lives of
in a designated space where time and energy are exerted
for cultivating fruits and vegetables. Gardens and gardening
can also represent an intimate connection with life itself
through caring and being a steward for living organisms that
also reciprocate with nourishment, aesthetics, and existential
meaning in the context of senescence. As Roszak has
noted, the added dimension of environmental connection
and awareness into the experience of the aging process could
serve as a template for a new “elder culture” and a sustainable
In addition, there are the benecial therapeutic inter-
actions with gardens as healing spaces, as in the example
of “great-granny’s garden” (Oslo, Norway), which not only
is represented as a living archive for botanicals, but also
serves as a “sensory garden” for persons with dementia .
activities and supporting the therapeutic goal of the positive
attributes of a garden space for older adults with cognitive
ere is much to discuss within a synopsis of these
themes, but one link to appreciate is the connection back
to Valliant’s synthesis of his research ndings that point
to gardening as including, but much more than, activity
of physical eort, and rather, it takes on the gravity of a
philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung,araisond’
much more. Valliant indicated that instead of the all-elusive
high expectations of happiness to be sought for in later life,
the concept that might instead be a better t given the realism
of the aging process in terms of challenges and promise is a
joy in life.eexperienceofajoyfulattentiontolife(anda
life) that is cultivated in gardening is very much akin to a
meditative practice  and helps to create a new kind of
“homecoming” that allows one to become native to a place
where there is a deeper connection to seasons of growth, and
decline [153,154]. To many, the garden exemplies a new
agrarian standard thatintegratesthemanyrealmsof
the “Great Garden” that is a seamless gateway between many
realms of nature including trees, streams, pastures and it helps
to instill a redirecting of mindful care .
Before you might think that the topic of gardening is
located in rural areas or along the exurban fringes, and thus
beyond the reach for urban and inner city dwellers, consider
the following example. In the low-income residential neigh-
borhood geographically located in the Bronx (New York)
Journal of Aging Research 9
known as Tremont, there exists a community garden that
recently celebrated its 37th anniversary. And it is here that
the residents of Tremont nd a sense of belonging even while
surrounded in a world of concrete. Tina Kelley wrote a story
for e New York Times on the Tremont Community garden
and said that the “gardens are oases, where a collective spirit
and a sense of community grow from the topsoil.” e President
of the community garden is Elizabeth Butler (age 77) and she
said that the garden is like a refuge, “If I couldn’t come here, it
would be rough ...I cannot stay in the house.” Another garden
member, a retired nurse, said the garden is site for celebrating
birthdays and as a place for memorial services as well. “ey
were like deeply part of the garden, like a soul thing,” w h i l e
another community member said of the garden, “It’s my joie
de vivre. I like the way it looks. I enjoy the view. I sit here by
Joie de vivre means joy of life.
And then there is Candide: Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
Yes, we should cultivate our gardens. But listen to how
Harrison  has interpreted notre jardin from Voltaire’s
Notre jardin is never a garden of merely private concerns
into which one escapes from the real; it is that plot of soil on
the earth, within the self, or amid the social collective, where
the cultural, ethical, and civic virtues that save reality from its
own worst impulses are cultivated. ose virtues are always
ours (p. x).
It may be dicult to imagine this much ado about a
patch of soil, some seeds, watering, and having a “strong back
But Voltaire was onto something. And that “something” has
resonated with many older adults throughout history and is
elemental and transcendental. at “something” is related to
and later life: the ethical basis of care [144,145]. e caring
for the garden (local) is then extended into the caring of
something beyond the home and community and outward
into social and cultural levels (global) . is is exactly the
link that Collins discoveredinherstudyofcommunity
dwelling older adults who were transformed into “keepers
of the earth” through the activities of a “gardening life” and
as a result, environmental stewardship was facilitated. It is
our conclusion, that the ultimate expression of why the act
of cultivating is so compelling in the later years of life is
connected with Stanley Kunitz who spent a lifetime (over
a hundred years) reecting on the importance of gardens
through poetry. In the book, e Wild Braid , the nexus
of cultivation, caring, and the life course are poignantly
I think of gardening as an extension of one’s own
being, something as deeply personal and intimate
as writing a poem. e dierence is that the garden
is alive and it is created to endure just the way
a human being comes into the world and lives,
suers, enjoys, and is mortal. e lifespan of a
owering plant can be so short, so abbreviated by
the changing of the seasons, it seems a compressed
parable of human existence (p. 14).
e opportunity to consider the benets of gardening
outcomes relating to stewardship and care and as a part
of the process of older adults being engaged with natural
contexts beyond the physical and built environment is also
the possibility of further investigating the gray and green
phenomena as an important dimension in well-being and
optimal aging in mid and later life [1,3,4,93,148,160–162].
To be generative, to cultivate, to care is both utilitarian and
sacred and nds its joyful expression in the reverential duty
in the garden.
Conflict of Interests
e authors declare that there is no conict of interests
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