The Coast News Group
The author with Violet Williamson, 85, one the senior gardeners at Arcadia Place retirement community in Vista. Courtesy photo
ColumnsJano's Garden

Gardening with seniors

When older gardeners get ready to set up their garden, the process is not necessarily a quick one.  There are the gloves, the tools, the soil and the watering cans.

And of course, the plants! Where shall we distribute all the plants that we just bought at Lowe’s? And those lovely packets of seed — where will they be placed in the garden?

I have recently had the pleasure of working with a group of senior residents at the Arcadia Place retirement residence in Vista. The goal of the Arcadia Garden Club is to create a raised bed vegetable garden for the residents with the help of Violet Williamson, 85, and her eight fellow gardeners.

Tim Davis and his staff have been exceptionally helpful in the setup of three raised beds (on legs) in the residence yard and have supplied the group with a wonderful assortment of tools and vegetable plants and seeds.


I have been studying and recording the process and progress of the participants in my senior gardening groups and I have found many levels of skill and interest in our projects.

According to Mark E. Williams, author of “The Art and Science of Aging Well”: “Broadly speaking, aging affects the speed of information in the brain and body. Most of this change occurs in the central nervous system, where sensory input is translated into responses. In addition, the conduction velocity of sensory and motor nerves located throughout the body slows with age.

“But creativity can increase! There is no reason to expect creative intellectual accomplishment to decline in old age. To the contrary, it is remarkably easy to find monumental achievements inspired by very old minds … Bach, Beethoven, Verdi and Stravinsky produced some of their greatest works in old age.”


Recently, while planting the project found below, I found it easiest to use my hands as measurement.  I have learned that directions must be short, but at the same time concise! We are now using our hands for measurement.

The seeds will be planted one fingernail deep, with one finger in between the group of seeds. We use our entire hands smoothing the dirt, and we are done!

The following project is one we used at Arcadia Place, but it will work in any garden, and for any age!


1. Purchase one small (not fully grown) tomato plant of a Cherry variety.  The varieties Tiny Tim, Sungold, Supersweet 100 or Black Cherry are just a few that will work for this garden project.

2. Purchase large metal tomato cage, with at least three rings measuring 2-3 feet high.

3. Purchase packets of Kentucky Pole Beans, Sugar Snap Peas and assorted leaf lettuce, greens or Swiss Chard (or buy 3-inch started plants).

4. Place the cage in 5-gallon pot, or in raised bed filled with high quality potting soil. Be certain your spot will receive full sun.

5. Push cage to the bottom of the pot or bury at least 6 inches in raised bed.

6.  At the edge of each metal prong of the cage, make knuckle-size holes and plant beans and peas, three to a hole.

7. Make a shallow trough with a hand rake and plant lettuce seeds in the circle.

8. Water thoroughly and check daily. In a few weeks you will have an entire garden in a tomato cage!

Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and teaches classes at the Carlsbad Senior Center. She can be reached at [email protected]