Environments for Aging is just around the corner!

TX wildflowers. By Naomi Sachs

Texas bluebonnets and Indian blanket flower. Photo by Naomi Sachs

The fantastic Environments for Aging conference is just around the corner…chronologically (April 9-12) and for me, geographically–it’s in Austin, TX! What a beautiful, fun, vibrant city for a conference. Not sure if the bluebonnets will still be blooming, but I’m sure other wildflowers will be. In fact, if you can take an extra day and go see the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, you will thank me.

I’ll be presenting with Susan Rodiek and Eric Bardenhagen on Sun, Apr 10 from 2:00 – 3:00 PM on “Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Outdoor Spaces to Optimize Usage” – see description below. And here are some other sessions I’m looking forward to attending. Hope to see you there!


Portland Memory Garden celebrates 10 years

Wild ginger and ferns. Photo by Henry Domke,

Photo by Henry Domke,

Portland Memory Garden Founders Day Weekend, June 2-3, 2012

In celebration of the Portland Memory Garden’s 10-year Anniversary, the Friends of the Portland Memory Garden will sponsor an educational panel discussion at Good Samaritan Hospital, Saturday, June 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Susan Rodiek, Associate Director of the Center for Health Systems & Design at Texas A&M University, will present the keynote address.

The Friends also plan a “garden” open house, June 3, noon to 3 p.m. The event will include guided tours, free nature crafts, music, and refreshments. The seminar and garden celebration are open to the public, though registration is required for the Saturday seminar. All seminar proceeds will go to support annual maintenance of the Portland  Memory Garden, located off S.E. Powell at 104th Avenue in Ed Benedict Park.

The garden is designed to meet the special needs of those with memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, and to provide respite for their caregivers. The garden is one of eight “memory gardens” in the U.S., and one of only two built on public land.

For more information contact Brian Bainnson at 503-256-8955 or visit

Recruiting Garden Volunteers: If you’d like to get your hands dirty in the Memory Garden they have two teams that meet on the first and third Saturday of every month, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Contact Patty Cassidy (1st Saturday) 503-239-9174 and Julie Brown (3rd Saturday) 503-367-5188.

The transportive power of scent

Eucalyptus image courtesy of

Eucalyptus image from

The other day, I was going through a pile of papers and found an envelope that had been mailed to me by a friend five years ago. Having no recollection of what was inside, I opened it up again to find some leaves wrapped in wax paper. Eucalyptus leaves. And suddenly there I was, back in Berkeley, CA, standing in a grove of those tall, majestic trees.

They say that our olfactory system is the most powerful sense for triggering memory. Designers and horticultural therapists often use fragrant plants in gardens for people with dementia precisely because they are so effective. When we think of fragrance in the garden, we often stick to flowers. But if you’ve ever smelled freshly mown grass, or piñon trees after a New Mexico thunderstorm, or the crushed leaves of just about any culinary herb, you know that flowers are just part of the story.

This is the time of year when people are buying Christmas trees. To me, one of the nicest things about a live tree is the way it fills the room with its resiny aroma. Give me that and some eggnog with nutmeg (oh, and rum…) and I’m in the spirit.

For more reading on the importance of scent as a memory trigger and some of the research behind it, see these two previous TLN Blog posts:

Scent as Emotional Memory Trigger in the Healing Garden


More on Scent and Memory – Guest post by Wendy Meyer.” This post includes a link to Meyer’s thesis, “Persistence of Memory: Scent Gardens for Therapeutic Life Review in Communities for the Elderly.”

Do you have a fragrance that’s an especially strong memory trigger? Have you used it in your or your clients’ gardens? Leave a comment here!


Upcoming Event: Movie Night at the Portland Memory Garden

Senior Movie Night Portland Memory GardenSenior Movie Night, a benefit for the Portland Memory Garden

Join us for a night out in the park!
Bring your friends, family, blanket and a picnic basket to enjoy live entertainment, free popcorn, and an outdoor movie.

Featuring “That’s Entertainment”  with Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly and directed by Jack Haley Jr. as well as a resource fair, music, and raffle.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Resource Fair 5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Opening Act: The Sounds of Rayvis (Elvis) 7:00 p.m.
Raffle drawings 7:45 p.m.
Movie starts at dusk (approximately 8:00 p.m.)

Where: Portland Memory Garden
SE 104th Ave & Powell Blvd
Portland, OR

This event is Disability Friendly. Bring dinner and drinks, blankets and/or chairs for seating and make this an “oldfashioned outdoor movie” event.

For more information, visit

To view Portland Parks & Recreation’s complete FREE FOR ALL Summer 2010 schedule, visit and click on the summer free for all icon! We hope to see you there!

Portland Memory Garden Plan

Portland Memory Garden Landscape Plan

The Portland Memory Garden is located in Portland, Oregon off SE Powell at 104th Avenue in the southeast corner of Ed Benedict Park. This very special garden is open to the entire community, but was designed to meet the special needs of those with memory disorders (such as Alzheimer’s disease) and to provide respite for their caregivers. The garden was dedicated in May 2002 and is one of eight memory gardens in the U.S., and one of only two built on public land.

Hurrah! ‘Access to Nature for Older Adults’ Wins ASLA Award

Access to Nature for Older Adults

Photo by Susan Rodiek

The 2010 ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Awards have been announced, and one of the winners is the excellent new DVD series, “Access to Nature for Older Adults: Promoting Health Through Landscape Design.” Yea! We’ve blogged about this DVD series before, and we’re so pleased that ASLA agrees that it’s a valuable educational and design tool. Here’s what the jury had to say:

“Many of the features that were found beneficial, if included in all landscape design activity, would result in superior design and experience for us all. Improving our interactions with our world and better mental health all around! Talks about landscape design specific to an older population, proving a point of the importance of landscape architects. It sets up a design hypothesis that is in need of proving. Everything it applies to older population also applies to everyone. The research has a much broader application than just the elderly population.”
—2010 Professional Awards Jury

And to celebrate, TLN members get a 15% discount off any or all three Access to Nature DVDs. You don’t even need to be an official TLN member (though we’d love it if you were: Join online – it’s free!). If you are a designer, or an administrator, or a health and human service provider, or an educator, or a student, or someone with parents or grandparents (hm, that would be everybody), you should buy this award-winning DVD series.

To order your Access to Nature DVDs with the 15% discount, visit the Access to Nature website, ( and at the checkout, enter the promotional code TLNA2N. If for some reason that code doesn’t work, try TLNA2Na (same code but with a lower-case “a” at the end). The website is also chock-full of good information, so it’s a good one to bookmark.

Access to Nature DVDs

This is actually the fourth award for Access to Nature series: It received the 2009 Environment + Design Award from CEAL – The Center for Excellence in Assisted Living, and an early prototype of the Access to Nature program also won the Active Place Design Competition award in product design from EDRA, the Environmental Design Research Association, and a Viewer’s choice award from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Congratulations again to Susan Rodiek and her team at Texas A & M University; keep up the good work, and thanks for extending the discount to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network!

Discount on DVDs – A Consolation Prize for Those of Us Who Can’t Attend the Design for Aging Conference

I really wanted to get to the Design for Aging conference, which started today, but just couldn’t this year. If you are in the same boat, I have a consolation prize for you!

The Therapeutic Landscape Network has teamed up with Access to Nature to offer a 10% discount off of the excellent DVD series, “Access to Nature for Older Adults.”

Please visit this earlier post for a detailed (and glowing) description of this DVD series. It is an excellent new contribution to this field, and I wish that everyone would see it.

So to help with that, here’s the deal: Receive a 10% discount when you buy any or all of the Access to Nature DVDs. Just enter this promotional code in the checkout section on the Access to Nature website: TLNA2N.

Get Out There! Surviving the Winter by Connecting with Nature, Part IV

Boo knows the benefits of a sunny romp in the snow
In my first post for this series on “surviving the winter by staying connected to nature,” I alluded to the health benefits of getting your butt off the sofa (or office chair) and into the great outdoors. Several people left comments on this blog, as well as on Facebook and twitter, that what keeps them sane and healthy in the winter is getting outside. So let’s talk about that. Why is getting outdoors so important?
Reason #1: Sunlight (or “take you vitamins!”)
Sunlight provides several essential ingredients for good health:
a. The first is Vitamin D. The sun contributes significantly to its production in our bodies, which aids in the absorption of calcium, which helps maintain strong bones. Vitamin D helps to prevent osteoporosis, as well as hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases. Rickets (remember rickets? Kids are getting rickets again! Gee, I wonder why…) and osteomalacia are common D deficiency diseases. Yuck. So get outside for some sunlight.
As little as 10 minutes of exposure a day is thought to be enough to prevent Vitamin D deficiencies.* In the winter, when the sun is low and most of our bodies are bundled up, we may need a little longer than 10 minutes. I try to get out at mid-day when the sun is highest. This works out well for lunch hour; rather than scarfing down that sandwich in front of your computer, throw on your coat (and gloves, and scarf, and hat…) and take a walk. Ten bucks says you’ll feel more energetic and better able to focus for the rest of the day (there’s research to back this up, too, but I’ll cover that another time).
b. Normal circadian rhythms – Exposure to sunlight helps us to maintain our internal biological clocks, which in turn helps us sleep. When bright light enters our eyes, it stimulates our “circadian pacemaker” (I kid you not). This little pacemaker signals the brain to stop making melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. There’s a good amount of research now that maintaining normal circadian rhythms in people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can improve sleep and decrease restlessness, agitation, and even aggression. Lack of sunlight also causes the “winter blues,” otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This depression is recognized by the medical community. But instead of upping your dose of anti-depressants or buying one of those light therapy lamps, try getting some natural sunlight first (disclaimer here about my not being a doctor and that if you need more than the sunlight cure, you should seek medical advice).
c. Spending time outdoors early in life may even help to prevent myopia (nearsightedness). Click HERE to read or listen to the story by Joseph Shapiro on NPR, and click HERE to read the article “What’s Hot in Myopia Research” by presented Neville A. McBrien, Ian G. Morgan, and Donald O. Mutti at the 12th International Myopia Conference in Australia, July 2008. I just love that title, “What’s Hot in Myopia Research.”
Reason #2: Exercise
We all know by now that exercise is good for our physical and mental/emotional health, right? So if you can do it outside while getting your daily Vitamin D intake and your circadian rhythms adjusted all at the same time, you’re golden. Even mild exercise, like walking, is beneficial. And then of course there’s skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, curling… perhaps watching the winter olympics will inspire.
Reason #3: Emotional well-being
When we experience positive stimuli, endorphins (chemicals that make us feel good) are released. Our outdoor experience is usually positive on a multi-sensory level, which means that more than one sense is being stimulated, in a good way, at the same time. We feel the sun’s warmth on our face as we listen to birds chirping (yes, even in winter) and see snowflakes falling, or our dogs romping, or our children making snow angels. For more on this, read my interview with Esther Sternberg, author of Healing Spaces: The Science and Place of Well-Being.
Researchers Stephen and Rachel Kaplan figured this out long before neurologists had the brain imaging technology to prove it. They believe that nature holds our attention through “soft fascination” rather than the kind of concentration and fight-or-flight attention needed when we’re working or walking along a busy city street (for more, see this blog post). Studies by Roger Ulrich and others have found that interacting with and even just viewing nature can help people recover from stressful events. And really, who isn’t under some degree of stress these days? So go outside. Your body will thank you.
And if you need any further convincing, read this article, “Science Suggests Access to Nature is Essential for Human Health.”
There is a caveat to all of this: Be safe!
Here are some tips to staying warm and safe from the National Wildlife Federation and Outdoor Afro (Part I and II). Sometimes, due to the weather or one’s physical condition, getting outside isn’t an option. I received this comment from a reader, and she definitely has a point:
Getting outdoors every day helps pass the winter. The only problem we encounter here is that the temperatures can drop to the point where being outdoors for more than a few minutes is not a good idea. What many people here do is go to the city gym and track. It’s a great meeting place and a way for us to avoid falling on ice and climbing big snowbanks. It’s better than being housebound for many elderly and disabled persons, including me.
In the next post, I’ll talk about more that we can do indoors on those days when venturing out isn’t possible. And then, before you know it, it’ll be spring!
And speaking of which, here’s another comment I got about fighting the winter doldrums:
“I go outside…and look for signs of spring.” And here’s a picture from one of our members, who did just that and found the first yellow crocus of spring.

“First Yellow Crocus” courtesy of Stevie at Garden Therapy
*My source for the Vitamin D information was an article on

Therapeutic Gardens Bloom in Senior Living Communities

Intergenerational gardening at Glacier Hills Retirement Community
Continuing our discussion on “aging in nature,” here’s a great article from Assisted Living Success. I’ve cut and pasted the first section here, but I strongly encourage readers to click on the link to read the full article. Full of all lots of good information and inspiration about gardens for seniors, including some great “how to” tips.

Therapeutic Gardens Bloom in Senior Living Communities

By Mona Del Sole

Drifting through the garden at sunset is the aroma of just-picked basil and tomatoes mixing with the perfume of lavender. My grandmother clanks down her garden tools brought from home, gathers her harvest and shuffles along the winding pathway. Pausing to remember her way, she’s guided by a specially designed walkway and soothed by whispers of a poetry reading nearby. She places one foot in front of the next toward what seems an uncertain destination. Soon her journey safely ends at the patio where she began, greeted by friends and iced tea.

Perhaps you’ve heard them called restorative, healing or memory gardens. Or maybe you’ve not heard about the therapeutic garden before now. Yet there is mounting research on the benefits of these specially designed gardens and an increase in their establishment within senior living communities.

Want to boost staff retention? Some say that you should consider the therapeutic garden. Reduced resident stress, improved satisfaction and better health outcomes are being reported for residents. And, for families who are dealing with the transition of a loved one from home to facility, the garden is an attractive feature. After all, it is likely that gardening was once a favorite hobby.

Meander through a therapeutic garden and you’ll find carefully selected flowering perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees. Containers and furniture are strategically placed to create spaces that are inviting and enjoyable. Discover sitting areas with specific themes such as a butterfly garden, sensory garden, vegetable garden, fragrant garden and shade garden. Safety, comfort and meeting the needs of the senior population are key elements of the design.
To read the rest of the article, click here. You can also order reprints from this site.

In the above photo, a resident of Glacier Hills Retirement Community in Ann Arbor, MI gardens with students from the Go Like the Wind Montessori School through a project called GRO – Generations Reaching Out. To learn more, visit the ElderTree Network. Many thanks to Suzanne for sending the image and links!

Scent as emotional memory trigger in the healing garden

Lilac image courtesy What Do I Know? blog

Image courtesy What Do I Know?

Lilacs. Roses. Jasmine. Gardenia. Freshly mown grass. Chaparral. Depending on where you grew up, these scents probably conjure up some pretty powerful emotions and memories. In fact, of the five, our olfactory sense is the strongest emotional memory trigger. According to a June ’09 issue of Organic Gardening, “That’s because the part of our brain responsible for basic memory evolved out of the tissue that makes up the olfactory cortex.” For a slightly more detailed explanation, see this article on the psychology of scent, “Whisking up a memory with a whiff: Rachel Herz explores the psychology of scent.“) And here’s another good one, from Science & Tech: “Can you really smell memories? How childhood scents get ‘etched’ on the brain.” See also our next blog post, a guest post by Wendy Meyer that includes a link to her thesis “Persistence of Memory: Scent Gardens for Therapeutic Life Review in Communities for the Elderly.

Fragrance in the healing garden

For this reason, using plants with fragrant flowers and foliage is an important part of designing the healing garden.* Especially in nursing homes, dementia gardens, and other landscapes for people with memory loss, scent can be very powerful. Consider this story, from Martha M. Tyson’s wonderful book The Healing Landscape: Therapeutic Outdoor Environments, about our colleague Vince Healy:

Vince’s grandmother was in her nineties. For quite some time she had not recognized Vince and was not really fully aware of what was going on around her. Since it was Easter time, Vince decided to pay her a visit. During his drive there, Vince came upon a roadside stand that advertised lilacs for sale. In southern California, lilacs do not grow well. This stand, however, had great quantities of them, and they were cheap. So Vince brought an enormous number of the lilacs and put them in the back of his van…By the time Vince arrived at the nursing home, the lilacs were looking very sad. When Vince walked into his grandmother’s room, she looked at him as always, blankly, and then she looked at the flowers. “They’re wilted! Throw them away!” After all this effort Vince was not about to throw them away, so he moved the lilacs closer, right under her nose. She drew in the fragrance with a deep breath and a sigh and said, “Lilacs….” Then she looked up at Vince and said, “Vinnie, how are you?”

Designing with fragrance as an emotional memory trigger

But even with less miraculous results, scents that elderly people remember fondly – “old-fashioned” flowers like lilacs, honeysuckle, gardenia, mock orange, roses – can evoke positive feelings and often facilitate conversations, thus providing something important but often lacking in places like nursing homes: Personal connection. Because our sense of smell often decreases as we age, strongly scented plants have a better chance of triggering a reaction than something subtle. I highly recommend Tyson’s book for more information, and Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes’ book Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations is also valuable, especially the Chapter 8 on nursing home gardens and Chapter 9 on Alzheimer’s treatment gardens. Several other books have been published on gardens for the elderly, including Jack Carman et al’s new book Recreating Neighborhoods for Successful Aging. If you know of books that specifically address this issue of scent as a memory trigger in healing gardens, I’ll add it to our list!

*One caveat: In some cases, such as with gardens for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, even a good scent may be too overwhelming, and even nauseating. I don’t know of any specific research on what to steer clear of – if anyone reading this knows, please pass the information my way and I’ll list it on the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s website.

Alzheimer’s Awareness Perennial Garden

Better Homes & Gardens has teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Association to offer an exclusive Alzheimer Awareness Perennial Garden to help champion Alzheimer’s research and programs.
The collection of five perennials (echinacea, aster, salvia, phlox, and sedum) in whites and blues creates a beautiful, fragrant display that also attracts butterflies, all while raising awareness about and funding for Alzheimer’s disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association receives 10% of the gross sales from all Alzheimer’s Awareness Perennial Gardens (which sell for $99.95) to support research and services in communities nationwide for people touched by Alzheimer’s and related types of dementia. Recipients get a personalized gift card, planting instructions, and a planting plan. 
Nice idea, right? Thanks to Jasmine’s Blog for blogging about this first! As she so eloquently put it, “Not only does the garden raise funds for the fight against Alzheimer’s, but part of the beauty of the concept is the stress-reduction offered by the pastime of gardening. The Alzheimer’s Association hopes that some of the 10 million unpaid caregivers in America will find relaxation through gardening. The kit also makes a beautiful tribute to a loved one.”