South Surrey seniors’ condo garden ‘therapeutic’

Condo residents taking advantage of opportunity to garden beyond the patio

Arleen Thompson-Mar finds the simple act of burying her fingers in the soil can transport her back in time and across hundreds of kilometres to her days as a “Saskatchewan farm girl.”

That sense of nostalgia is just one of the reasons the South Surrey senior is grateful to have space, in the midst of a cluster of condo developments, for her own patch of garden to tend.

Arleen, who rents a ground-floor condo near the White Rock boundary with her husband, Jack Mar, knows she’s lucky to have the room to spread out beyond the confines of their patio to grow both flowers and food-producing plants.

“It’s therapeutic, for sure,” she said.

“It’s so important to us, as seniors, to enjoy what’s become so important to us – playing in the dirt and growing things.”

The couple’s small garden contains mostly annuals – colourful flowers to brighten up their small space – but they also grow tomatoes, beans, raspberries, onions and herbs.

Most of it they consume themselves, while sharing some of their small bounty with helpful neighbours.

Arleen believes many of her neighbours appreciate her efforts, regardless of whether they’re able to partake of the garden’s produce.

“This is a value to everyone who can see our garden from above – four floors,” she said.

The couple attends the Kent Street Activity Centre and enjoys talking gardening with other condo dwellers. They share tips about what grows best and what doesn’t work with the limited amount of sunshine they receive each day.

The pair acknowledged that being able to make use of the common property surrounding their patio has been a huge factor in their happiness.

“Not all condos are willing to be this flexible,” Jack said.

At the same time, he noted, there is a benefit in any type of garden, even if it is confined to a few containers on a balcony.

While valuable to people of all ages, gardens are particularly important to seniors, the couple believe.

The research would seem to bear out their theory.

Working in a garden has been widely found to improve flexibility, mobility, strength and endurance and encourages the use of motor skills.

Beyond the physical benefits, being outdoors improves mental well-being by reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Exposure to sunlight aids the production of vitamin D – vital for bone health – and helps trigger the release of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin, which is key to warding off feelings of depression.

Both Jack and Arleen have noticed the benefits during the two years they’ve lived in their current home.

“We downsized a few years back and suffered through (living in) a couple other condos. It was depressing,” Jack said.

“When you’re surrounded by buildings, it’s all that much more important to be in touch with nature.”

– Brenda Anderson

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