Planning a Garden for Retirement

As you grow older it makes sense to plan a garden that will cope with the downsides of aging so that you can continue to enjoy it and not have to work quite so hard to keep it up to scratch.  At the same time, one of the pluses of retirement means that more time can be devoted to creating the garden you’ve always wanted.

Look for plants that are easy to look after and that stimulate the senses.  Bright colours, strong scents such as herbs and different foliage in dramatic shapes and sizes provide a contrast for failing eyesight and a weakening sense of smell.   Contrast the planting between light and dark as your eyes start to fail so you can see where the edge of the border and path is and use strong colours such as hot yellows and reds to help with this.  In particular look for vibrant Crocosmia George Davison, or Liatris spicata, even marigolds and the long-flowering and colourful Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Sunray’ and, of course, lilies.

Raised flowerbeds give character to the garden, are kinder to aching backs and can be used for vegetables or flowers. View your garden in retirement as a journey.  You may start with vegetables in these beds but, in time, they can also be turned over to less intensive usage such as shrub borders which will supply regular flowering all year round.

Wider paved paths – not gravel – with gentle curves are low maintenance and easy to get around.  Gravel requires raking regularly to keep it weed-free which can be time-consuming.

Adding seating areas in different locations is not just kinder on the eyes they also enhance your enjoyment of the garden and provide regular resting spots. Include wider edging of raised beds or ponds so that you can take a break and perch there to enjoy your plants or fish more closely without having to bend down.

Ponds and water features are also excellent in retirement, providing interest and variety. Add flowers that attract wildlife too such as Lavender and Sedum matrona for bees and Buddleja ‘blue chip’ for butterflies.

As you age, it is wise to reduce the amount of lawn in the garden and increase paving areas, adopting gently sloping paths as they are easier to maintain and better for mobility.  That said, if viewing a verdant green lawn is your pleasure, then stick with it.  A lawn is still a great economic and forgiving surface – even in drought – but edge it with paviours or natural stone so that the mower can go straight over the top and you avoid the need to clip the edges.  Locate these seating areas so that they have a clear view of the wildlife and then create activity areas with bird tables and bird baths, feeders or coconuts.

Lighting is not just an aesthetic but an essential feature, especially as you age making it easier to get around. It also extends the garden’s use allowing it to be admired from within the house at night-time and even highlighting the wildlife in the garden at night.

It’s important to make sure that there’s plenty of shade as well as sunny areas in the garden as we are less tolerant of heat as we age.  Cultivate trees and bushes add a pergola or create a shady cool area for hot uncomfortable days with the use of plants in cool blues, purples and whites to sit and read and do the crossword.  Bushes and tree requiring little attention include viburnum bodnantense Dawn, box and Lonicera lemon beauty and great small trees such Amelanchier canadensis or Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis rosea

Drought tolerant plants will also make the garden easier to maintain. Look out for the almost totally green Euphorbias, grassy santolinas or hydrangea petiolaris.  Don’t forget alpine and low growing plants which often don’t grow too big and which will flower for ages providing they have plenty of sun and well drained soil. Look out for Erodium bishops form, Primula auricula or sedum voodoo.

If one of the joys of retirement will be time spent with grandchildren, you may wish to create special areas for them. Open spaces whether paved or lawned are perfect for outdoor games or for erecting climbing frames or trampolines.