It was a Tuesday morning and Lucy Nesse was ready to start her day at Overlake Terrace, a Stellar Senior Living community in Redmond. With a warm smile, she walked toward the residents, rolling a white-wired cart filled with garden supplies.
Nesse is an Eldergrow expert educator and visits senior living facilities on the Eastside. She teaches and builds relationships with residents through ongoing enrichment classes on horticulture, garden art and culinary harvest courses.
Overlake Terrace is one of more than 150 senior living facilities across the nation that partner with Eldergrow, a company that brings nature indoors to residential and long-term care settings. Senior living facilities that partner with Eldergrow receive a mobile, indoor garden and an onsite expert educator, like Nesse, who visits twice a month. The purpose of the program is to use gardening to engage all five senses and keep residents’ minds and hands active.
“I can confidently say that a lot of the residents had gardens or were ranchers,” Nesse said. “By harnessing these concepts and presenting them to the class, the residents reminisce. It brings back fond memories of their past and in ways that something else couldn’t.”
The Eldergrow class at Overlake Terrace had about eight students. That August morning, residents learned about pruning and cutting. As Nesse gave her lecture, residents began to talk amongst themselves and shared their memories. One resident in particular, William Sanderson, shared with the class about his ranching days in California. With great detail, Sanderson shared about how he used to make raisins on the ranch in his younger days.
“It was hot but that is perfect temperature for the raisins,” Sanderson told the class. “Maybe I can make a PowerPoint about it and share with the class.”
After the lesson, Nesse asked if someone would like to help with pruning. Resident Nadine Hardman quickly raised her hand to volunteer. Hardman — the class talker — headed to the mobile garden that was full of colorful plants, and with the help of Nesse, they began to cut away.
Nesse said educators measure residents using six therapeutic objectives: motor skills, sensory stimulation, socialization, creative expression, spatial awareness and cognitive stimulation.
“We try to address all those areas,” Nesse said. “We want to make sure everybody is engaged…we want to make sure all these goals are met with each resident and as a whole class.”
The gardening class at Overlake Terrace is a therapeutic horticulture garden program geared toward stimulating residents’ senses and memory.
“We have found that the love of gardening is a seed once sewn that never dies,” activities director, Kylee Hooley said. “Eldergrow provides hands-on activities that involve all the senses, so our participants can see, smell, hear, touch, taste and experience all the magic of horticulture therapy. This stimulation of the senses awakens the mind and brings memories like nothing else. Our memory care residents benefit greatly from [these] classes. There is always more to learn and it enables them to grow themselves.”
In a 2014 literature review by Kathleen L. Wolf, Sarah Krueger and Katrina Flora, it was found that gardening may be a preventative measure to help reduce the onset of dementia and that gardening on a daily basis was found to reduce risk factors for dementia by 36 percent.
“I get excited about the concept, the effect, and the impact it has on elders,” Nesse said.
Eldergrow was founded by CEO Orla Concannon in 2015, as a final project to complete her graduate degree. Concannon saw the need to connect elders living in facilities with healing properties of nature. She studied the evidence-based benefits of horticulture therapy at Legacy Health Hospital in Portland, Oregon in the gerontology department. Eldergrow is now in 20 states and in more than 150 communities.