Nurture your love of gardening in later life
Dr Derek Clark’s job took him to some of the most horrific disasters in modern history: from the Zeebrugge ferry tragedy in 1987, to the Piper Alpha oil platform explosion in 1988 and the Lockerbie plane bombing in December of the same year. As a forensic odontologist, he had to help identify the dead using their teeth.
Doing this tough job required an outlet: when he was in Thailand for four months in 2005, helping rescue teams after the tsunami, he spent the evenings designing a garden for his new home back in the UK.
“It was a distraction from my job, which was very stressful,” explains Dr Clark, who retired after the tragedy. “There was a lot of emotional stress. Designing the garden was therapy.”
He is now 85, and has just designed another garden at Audley Mote, a retirement development, where he and his wife, Christine, 73, bought a twobedroom cottage six years ago.
The couple have transformed the old walled garden from an unkempt grassland into a landscape of blooms, trees and evergreens.
“We would not have moved to Audley Mote had we not been able to have a garden,” says Dr Clark. “We have lost a lot of other responsibilities, so we can focus on our passion now – we don‘t have to worry about the roof leaking or outside decoration.”
The walled garden at Audley Mote in Kent dates from 1796, and used to be the kitchen garden for the Grade II listed Georgian mansion, which now houses 14 apartments as well as a fitness studio, a restaurant and a swimming pool.
There is also a small allotment area of raised beds, where the Clarks have grown tomatoes and courgettes, and neighbours have planted runner beans, aubergines, beetroot and onions.
“We share the produce, and neighbours help with watering when we go on holiday,” adds Dr Clark. Prices at Audley Mote start at £385,000 for a two-bedroom apartment.
Gardening is known to have both mental and physical benefits, and for some retirees it can be harder to give up their beloved garden than their home when they move.
A study by the horticultural journal HortScience found that just 30 minutes of gentle gardening on a regular basis offers huge benefits to physical health. In 2016, The King’s Fund charity released a study recommending to the medical community that it should prescribe gardening to promote better physical and mental health.
Marilyn Duncan, 78, moved from north London to a one-bedroom bungalow at Retirement Villages’ Elmbridge Village in Surrey 12 years ago – just so she could have an allotment.
“It was the main criteria for me when I was looking for a retirement property,” she says. “I had never been to Surrey before and didn’t know anyone.” Now she not only wields a spade and fork, but runs the allotment programme with fellow resident Michael Buckoke. Some 22 residents now have allotments at the village growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. There are also fruit trees and 12 greenhouses.
Gardening is also a great therapy for the single retired civil servant. “If I am feeling a bit down, I go to the allotment and am in a completely different world,” says Duncan. “I’ve also seen others become more lively when they are gardening. We even have a few in their 90s.”
There is a social area of tables and chairs near the allotment where residents can take breaks in between pruning, planting and raking, and they held their first social event recently in the village clubhouse. Sometimes a small balcony can be enough for garden lovers. June Brodier, 76, who downsized two years ago to a twobedroom apartment at Inspired Villages’ Durrants Village in Faygate, West Sussex, has created a garden on her balcony, which she can access from the French windows in her bedroom.
“My previous house in Caterham had been home for 42 years, but after my husband passed away, the property, and the garden in particular, was too big to look after on my own.
“I like being in the centre of things and so an apartment within the clubhouse building has been perfect for me, with the balcony allowing me to still keep pots of plants.” Prices for two and three-bedroom cottages at Durrants Village start from £448,950.
“Gardening can be very relaxing and therapeutic for some people, so we recognise the importance of facilitating this for all of our residents,” says James Cobb, the sales director for Inspired Villages. “Residents do not need to worry about their gardens if they go away – our on-site staff can help with watering, and often residents will help each other care for their plants, too.”
At Mickle Hill in Pickering, North Yorkshire, owners have established a gardening club and taken over the communal gardens, creating flower beds, a courtyard with raised beds, and a service to help fellow owners spruce up their patios.
Simon Lyle, 72, a retired civil servant who lives in a two-bedroom bungalow with his wife, Betty, is on the eightstrong gardening committee at the village. “We have 10 acres here, so there is lots of space,” he says. “We are waiting for a greenhouse, and the idea is to get all the owners involved in creating a lovely, colourful garden for us all to enjoy.” The gardening club has also