Older Gardeners as Keepers of the Earth: A Phenomenological Study

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This study explores what the lived experience of gardening is like for older, community-dwelling gardeners as it is uncovered through conversations, garden visits, and written notes from seven older gardeners. Over a two-year sequence, multiple in-depth individual conversations at the homes of the co-researcher participants unearth themes reflective of their gardening lives. Drawn forward by the methodology of hermeneutic phenomenology, the rich text of our dialogue mingles like compost and becomes something newly created that shows their passion for interacting with plants and living habitats.

Using the existentials of lived place, lived body, lived time and lived relation we dig into how gardening is lived. Home and volunteer places for gardening keep these older adults curious and creatively engaged-characteristics of healthy agers. Their worn body parts go unnoticed in the presence of beauty they co-create, suggesting knowing the Earth through the senses is a source of tranquility and wakefulness that brings a renewed appreciation for the wonder of nearby nature. With interpretive literature, poetry, and cultural understandings of the gardeners' lives, we relate to metaphors surrounding gardening; the seasons and the circle of life are ever-present.

Autobiographical stories of sustained volunteerism, land trusts, and conservancies for future generations reveal their caring for the planet and spiritual aspects of this physical activity, which they love. Reaching out beyond their gardens to share their bounty and wisdom about their relationship with living earth, the gardeners model a vision of respect for the planet and an ecological consciousness. Witnessing nearby nature, they blossom in the Fall of their lives.

As a community health professional, my task is to educate and raise awareness about nature for human health and well-being; thereby building on current initiatives to foster accessible nearby nature. The study also sheds light on the value of environmental activism through autobiographical notions. In supporting a gardening life for older gardeners, we advocate the importance of interacting with nearby nature that we long to preserve. Our planet needs more earth keepers like these to bring us back into balance.