Aging Parents: Little-Care Live Plant Gifts –flowering or not


Dish Garden with Succulents

Click all photos to enlarge

Dish gardens make great gifts–easy upkeep with the right plants.

I began making dish gardens in elementary school, which speaks to how easy creating these small landscapes is…. easy to make, easy to maintain with easy-care plants. And they add enjoyment…fun to watch grow and possibly flower. AND  they add a decorator’s touch, regardless of decorating style. Aren’t they a good gift for older people who appreciate nature, don’t get outdoors much–and even those who do? You can purchase a dish garden, or do-it-yourself.

(and ask questions of sales person)

  • Plants that are smallish
  • Plants that are slow growing (if the goal is reducing work)
  • Plants with different textured leaves
  • Plants with leaves of different colors
  • At least one plant that could flower (it’s a bonus)
  • Plants that grow either indoor or outdoors…not both in same container
  • An attractive container (dish) with a drainage hold and saucer

(Light and Watering Requirements Should be on Plant’s Tag)

  • Watering nonuscculents: Proper watering leads to success or failure.Thus, each plant in the little garden should have the same water requirements. Overwatering causes root rot, that’s why the dish’s drainage hole is important–as is a plate or saucer underneath. Otherwise furniture gets damaged (and equally bad, you will have left an eyesore reminder of your well-intentioned gift.) My favorite “saucers” are free–lids on plastic take-home containers. They’re clear, unobtrusive, come in various shapes and sizes.
  • Watering succulents: Succulents (see top photo), need very little water. A light spray on the top or a little water poured on the rocks doesn’t upset the sandy look and does the job. Succulents store water in their “leaves.” They begin to shrivel when too dry, but rebound when give a bit of water.  monitor a succulent dish garden and add water before a disaster could occur.
  • Light: Plants should also be grouped by their light requirement–full sun, partial sun etc. To flower, plants need light. For example, miniature violets and sinningias need indirect light at the least, but never full sun.

See above for plant selection

The two dish gardens below were entered for competition at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The first container is a bonsai dish with indoor plants; the one below looks like it contains outdoor succulents and is, I believe, made from a composite. (Click to enlarge.)


Pink/green leaf plant is fittonia, I believe. More common is green and white leaf color.

Dish Garden

Succulents and ???

  • Dish gardens can sprout up in unlikely dishes.
  • As long as there’s a drainage hole, you’re good to go.
  • Potting soil for cacti and succulents differs from soil used for growing leafy plants.
  • For Fertilizing:   follow instructions, using 1/2 or 1/4 strength or less.
  • Avoid potting soil with fertilizer or plants will quickly outgrow the dish.

Caring for plants, if not too taxing and fussy, gives elders a responsibility that offers the joy of watching them grow, keeping them healthy and being needed. It’s also fun and life-affirming. Doesn’t this help parents and older adults age well?

Check out Some of my favorite little plants: Sinningia pusilla (tiny tuber).Rob’s Scrumptious (miniature violet). Ficus pumila Quercifolia (tiny ivy). Nephrolepis exalta  Fluffy Ruffles (little fern). Kalanchoe (check out colors)

Related: Thanks to Lori for an additional way of growing plants–the Miracle-Gro Aero Garden.This hydroponic garden seems easy from start to finish–can add interest and fun to an elder’s life.

Helpful sites: –about dish gardens Site for small plants

Red Kalanchoe-Green container

Red Kalanchoe~Green Container

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities. respected professionals and selected publications–to help parents age well.

Easy-Care Plants for Aging Parents

 “Once we become interested in the progress of the plants in our care,
their development becomes a part of the rhythm of our own lives
and we are refreshed by it.”
Thalassa Cruso (1909-1997),
Public TV’s “Julia Child of the Horticulture” 1966-69.

October. Days shorten. Get colder. Leaves fall. We spend more time indoors, less time with nature.

A perfect, thoughtful gift for older people: an easy-to-care-for plant. Even more perfect if doing so can refresh and lift the spirits of those we care about–those living alone, in assisted living or care facilities, even those with no “green thumb.”

Here’s a short list of plants that take neglect and still perform. Indeed they ask nothing more than regular watering and filtered sun or low light.

3 Flowering Plants

Caring for Your St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Plant - (This popular house plant (oxalis) is very easy to grow and maintain)

1. Oxalis is one of the easiest, most forgiving, fun-to-watch plants. Green (regnellii)  or purple (triangularis) leaves. Leaves open at daylight (watch 33 second video link that shows leaves opening at 23 seconds) and close each night as darkness sets in. Wants light in order to produce flowers, but not full sun. Likes damp (not soggy) soil. When too dry, plant tells you; it looks like it’s collapsing. But it comes right back after watering. Blooms for long periods indoors, with a rest period after blooming.


Spathiphyllum–click to enlarge


2. Spathiphyllum is also easy and forgiving. Many varieties, different size plants. Buy the small size. They grow just as well and are more manageable. If plants are getting dry, the leaves begin to sag–that’s the signal to water. If they get too dry the tips turn brown; but the plant survives, and the tips can be trimmed if desired. I’ve found these plants impossible to kill. Low light is fine. they don’t like bright light. Blooms year round.

Video short with instructions, basically tells you how easy this plant is to care for. I didn’t know it’s also an air purifier but, according to the video, it is.


Bromeliad–click to enlarge

3.  Bromelliad blooms are vibrant, last months, and clearly add color to any room. They do need good light, usually bright indirect light, but require little care, definitely don’t want to be overwatered.

Bromelliads at left were at Home Depot (NYC) not a place to buy fussy, difficult-to-grow plants. Should an older person become attached to this plant, the major problem is that, after blooming for several months, the plant dies. That said, it has already produced “pups” around it, that will bloom about 6 months later–I think. So the plant dies, but leaves its offspring, which elders can enjoy watching grow and finally bloom. 7 Easy-to-grow Bromelliads

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful:
they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.”
Luther Burbank
American botanist, horticulturalist, pioneer in agricultural science
to be continued next post.

Related: Aging Parents: Easy-care, live-plant gifts: terrariums–flowering-or-not

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well. 

Stimulation and Connections Enhance Seniors’ Lives–6 Suggestions

1.  A Little Help From My Friends….

A quick call to my friend, Linda. “Any chance you’re free Friday or is that your bridge day?”

“You’re sort of right–sometimes it’s my bridge day and it will be this Friday.  Jackie’s mother is almost 90 and loves to play bridge. So I play bridge with Jackie and her mother –not every Friday–but when I’m asked and that’s this Friday.”

…..Without Overloading Friends

How thoughtful of Jackie…towards her mother as well as towards her friends. Linda doesn’t give up time every Friday. No doubt Jackie, the daughter, does but she involves different friends in such a way that she doesn’t over-impose on their Fridays.

Meanwhile, Jackie’s giving her elderly mother something priceless, something special to look forward to–time with her daughter and several other women on Fridays. This not only provides togetherness and socialization, but all the good that accompanies it– fresh ideas, connections and a change of scenery. (They play bridge at a different home/apartment each Friday, including Jackie’s mother’s.) And let’s not forget stimulation for the brain….

2.  Games

Yet games needn’t be confined to bridge to stimulate the brain. There are a number of games aging parents may have played in the past (mahjong, dominoes, Canasta, Scrabble, Chess, Poker anyone? or Monopoly? What about jigsaw puzzles?). Getting re-involved in these can be a way to pull a bored couch potato off the couch to become engaged again.

 3.  Involving Family and Friends

Children, grandchildren as well as other family members and friends can be scheduled to play in these games–using Jackie’s model–without over-imposing. If this jumpstarts an older person off the couch and into a chair for a game, shouldn’t this help parents age well?

4.  Friend Skype

My friend, Monique, on the other hand, uses her friend, Skype, to connect with her far-away-living mother. Monique’s 87-year-old mother has lived in a small medieval village in the South of France for decades. The way Monique reports it, her mother can expect a long phone call from her, using Skype, on 3 specific days a week, after dinner in France (there’s an 8-hour time difference), plus a few short surprise calls at night.  Monique reflects:

“You know being home alone in the evenings is hard for people living alone–no one to share with, no conversations. Someone that age, who’s alone–there’s nothing much at night for her. She doesn’t especially like TV, does read, but still….This way after dinner and doing the dishes, she tucks herself in bed and waits for the phone to ring.”

5.  Skype and Multi-tasking

“Thank God for Skype!”  Monique continues. “It costs around $42 a year and we can talk 24/7 if we want. We spoke for 4 solid hours yesterday. I had the headset on so I was able to move around the house and get all the housework done, feed the fish, and water the garden.  Her part of France–it’s 8 hours ahead–she’s tucked in bed and I’m accomplishing things around the house.”

Monique came to the US decades ago to work for a US corporation. Today she’s a wife, devoted daughter of a far-away-living mother, and an event-organizer. In the “old days” her mother visited her often in the US but aging has made it less easy.


“I sent her an amaryllis bulb for Christmas,” explains Monique. “It’s very little work, easy to care for. And every day she gets up and watches it grow and I hear about it. It now has a bud, but she doesn’t know what color it will be yet. As people get older there’s not much left for them…it doesn’t take much to give them pleasure.”

Sr. Advisor, R, at 98, would certainly agree. She has ordered Amaryllis bulbs for at least a decade. She lines them up in pots on her kitchen table, waters and turns them, and delights in watching them grow. When they’re near their peak of perfection, she gives them as gifts to people who have befriended her during the year.

Nature is renewing, Watching Amaryllis (as well as certain other plants) grow–if they’re easy to care for–can become an enjoyable pastime. Monique seems to be right: it doesn’t take much.  Indeed, it may not take as much as we think to add stimulation and connections to seniors’ lives–to help parents and grandparents age well.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.