Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

August 3, 2009

Table of Contents

  • Nature Calls! (Introduction to special issue)
  • About Glacier Hills (Retirement community with a vision)
  • The Wellness Garden Program (What is it?)
  • Program Background and Partnerships (Planning, funding, and operating)
  • Program Implementation (Planting parties, garden crafts, and much more)
  • Evaluation and Follow-Up (Getting better all the time!)
  • Resident Survey Quotes (The Wellness Garden lifts spirits)
  • More Inspiring Visuals (A model for accessible natural beauty)

Nature Calls!

The American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) was pleased to accept the National Council on Aging (NCOA), Health Promotion Institute, 2009 Best Practice Award. Specifically, the prize was conferred in honor of SFA professional education programs. Also receiving NCOA recognition was the Wellness Garden Program at Glacier Hills Retirement Community, which brings us to today's special issue.

Serge van der Voo is the landscape designer who oversaw the installation of Glacier Hills' award-winning Wellness Garden. Currently serving as Landscape Project Manager, Serge now directs day-to-day operating maintenance for the entire Glacier Hills campus, as well as new landscape additions. In March, he traveled to Las Vegas to accept the NCOA award at the 2009 Aging in America Conference. The following text, photos, and illustrations are taken from the Power-Point presentation that Serge gave during those proceedings.

The heartwarming story of the Wellness Garden is sure to give Experience! readers many useful ideas about how to bring nature's blessings to older adult activity clients. The editors also hope you will enjoy the colorful pictures of this lively, delightful place!


About Glacier Hills

Glacier Hills Retirement Community is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Founded in 1966, it has a 35-acre campus including 26 villas, 200 independent and assisted living apartments, 160 nursing beds, and more than 400 residents and staff members.

In 2003, the Wellness Connection of Glacier Hills established a commitment to wellness integration among residents and staff. A full-service exercise facility was created to enhance resident/staff range of motion, physical strength, and cardiovascular health. The following year, Glacier Hills Home Care (a non-Medicare certified home health care company) was started to provide assistance with daily living activities, nursing, physical therapy, and social work support.

In 2005, the Wellness Garden was installed, and soon thereafter a Wellness Garden Program Coordinator was hired to promote and coordinate Wellness Garden activities with residents, staff, and volunteers.


The Wellness Garden Program

"Embracing the enrichment of the whole person..." is a goal of the Glacier Hills Wellness Garden. Participants engage in gardening activities, natural history lessons, walking groups, and intergenerational activities. Programming is geared toward helping residents maintain and extend their cognitive and physical abilities, their social and vocational network, and their emotional and spiritual solace. The garden itself is designed to provide residents, family, staff, and friends with a backyard setting that pleases one's sensory modes (smelling, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and remembering). Its features include:

  • Automatic entry doors with awning
  • Curvilinear raised garden beds with water spigots
  • Adjustable shade canopies
  • Adaptive gardening tools
  • Accessible pathways and swing
  • Vertical planting wall
  • Water fountain
  • Seating area nodes
  • Outdoor sound system
  • Multi-seasonal perimeter planting beds.

  • Program Background and Partnerships

    The Wellness Connection increased organizational awareness of the relationships among human health, wellness, and the physical environment at Glacier Hills. The administration embraced research indicating that exposure to natural settings has an overall positive effect on human well-being: psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Wellness Garden planning meetings began in early 2003 with the Landscape Project Manager, administrators, the Care and Rehabilitation resident, and staff members.

    Garden design priorities included:

  • Inviting destinations
  • Encouraging spaces utilizing motor skills and plant/soil contact
  • Colorful focal points from inside the building (reds and yellows)
  • Smooth curvilinear forms for the walkways and raised planting beds
  • Shady seating nodes (at points of intersection)
  • The experience of sound and motion (water/ornamental grasses)
  • Fragrances to attract songbirds and butterflies through selective plant communities.
  • Funding for the garden installation in October of 2005, its tools, and its programming resulted from the generous donations of the Ann Arbor Branch of Women's National Farm & Garden, resident Ann Edwards, and a bequest of the Richard Whitker Trust. Since 2006, the Wellness Garden Program Coordinator has established community partnerships with Ann Arbor Community Volunteers; local elementary, junior high, and Montessori schools; the Matthaei Botanic Gardens; and the University of MIchigan's Public Health & Natural Resources Department (for example, for faculty consultations and student internships).

    Currently Glacier Hills' Recreational Therapy Department implements the Wellness Garden Program. A collaborative effort is encouraged among the directors of the Wellness Connection, the Rehabilitation Department (which includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy), and the Activity Programmers from the independent living areas within Glacier Hills.


    Program Implementation

    Regular Wellness Garden programs incorporate the six dimensions of wellness: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, and vocational. They include intergenerational picnics and planting parties, learning bird calls, botany classes, walking groups, socializing, live music programs, horticultural crafts, art therapy, and adaptive games.

    Plant materials used in the raised planting beds are determined through focus groups and through written surveys. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, sweet peas, melons, carrots, spearmint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and basil have been planted in the raised beds. Residents spend time planting, watering, and harvesting during Garden Club activities.

    Passive activities are considered equally important to the seasonal use of the garden. These non-programmed activities include reading, taking a stroll, relaxing on the swing, listening to the overflowing water of the fountain, or simply watching songbirds gather berries, grasses, or seeds.


    Evaluation and Follow-Up

    Wellness Garden programs are annually evaluated by the residents who use the garden. Glacier Hills seeks to enable residents, staff, visitors, and healthcare garden designers to specifically appraise the garden's therapeutic design elements. The following garden additions have been made after receiving valuable feedback:

  • An outdoor sound system with satellite radio programming was added after several residents and staff evaluations noted that traffic and other noise pollution was an issue within the garden.
  • An overhead retractable awning and automatic accessible double doors were added once staff pointed out the difficulty of wheeling residents out into the garden
  • Indoor and outdoor Wellness Garden signage was installed after receiving feedback from the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate of Merit Program at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
  • After reading several resident evaluations that expressed the desire to be able to garden on rainy or winter days, the idea of creating wheelchair accessible indoor planting tables came to fruition. University of Michigan Landscape Architecture students were asked to design and build three moveable wooden planting tables for Glacier Hills as a working project for their "construction methods" course.

  • Resident Survey Quotes

    One survey question for the residents is, "How do you feel when you spend time in the garden?" Responses have included:

  • "(I feel) as if I am much better than I am, or maybe I am much better for being out there. I enjoy every minute. I just like to be in that place, whatever my condition."
  • "It's an inspiration to go out there. I feel as though there is still some beauty left in the world."
  • "I have to say, homesick, because I would sit outside at home, and my home is gone now. I like the outdoors -- to be able to breathe fresh air. I don't like to be cooped up."
  • "I feel renewed and rejuvenated when I'm out there. I feel a spiritual connection with God and I feel like I am worth something."
  • When asked, "What kinds of things do you like to do in the Wellness Garden?" residents' responses have included:

  • "I like to look at the butterflies and know what they are. I like planting and eating... I've even learned to identify the plants and I'm very proud of what I've learned."
  • "I like to walk around and look at what's blooming, just like I would at home."
  • When asked, "Do you and your family visit with each other in the garden?" one resident replied:

  • "When my son or relative comes to visit, we go out there and sit and talk and reminisce. I've noticed the changes and the beautiful flowers. It's amazing and I enjoy it. Every day I see something new."

  • More Inspiring Visuals

    Below are additional photographs and representations that demonstrate the charm and practicality of the Wellness Garden at Glacier Hills.

    Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

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