“I used to be a gardener”: Communal gardens as conduits for Age Care residents to activity, identity, and to others

Dr Pauline Marsh1, Ms Hannah Fielder1

1UTAS, Hobart, Australia


This paper reports on a recent study conducted in the south of Tasmania involving residents of a rural age care facility. We aimed to understand how residents, including people living with dementia, access communal garden sites and whether this fostered the acts of gardening and social engagement. The research arose from concerns raised by members of a supported community gardening program, DIGnity.  For the first 6 months of this unique therapeutic horticulture program, residents from the local RACF were regularly attending. However, after a winter break the residents did not return, and an on-site garden had been established in the facility.

Was this on-site RACF garden a more suitable site, or a less-than adequate solution designed to accommodate institutional restrictions?

Using a process consent method, 13 semi-structured interviews were held with residents, family members and staff. Results show multi-faceted ways residents relate to and access communal garden sites and important ways people living with dementia were able to maintain their identities as gardeners, improve their quality of life and assuage loneliness. Importantly, they enabled people to find meaning and maintain their sense of self. However, accessing the communal garden sites both in and outside of the facility was challenging.


Dr Pauline Marsh has been part of the CRH research team at UTAS since 2015. Her current research interests include therapeutic space, rural community wellbeing, end-of-life care, dementia inclusivity, and rural health student placements experiences. Her work on the DIGnity Supported Community Gardening initiative in rural Tasmania has received international attention. Pauline is also an award winning filmmaker.

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