Clicking the website for Rutgers University (NJ) Department of Biology and  Pathology, we learn that Horticultural Therapy while “an ancient practice,” is a “relatively new profession.” As far back as the 19th century, a signer of the Declaration of Independence observed and documented the benefits of his patients working with plants.

Ways plants can contribute to parents’ and elders’ aging well

1. Feeling needed gains importance as people age. Plants need some care.
2. Watching something grow is life-affirming.
3. Plants provide the above and, unlike pets, some can remain healthy with very little care.
4. Plants are decorative–creating an attractive, pleasant living environment.

The easy-care flowering houseplants featured in the last post provide interest, beauty and affirmation of life: buds appear and flowers come forth (and one plant’s leaves open in the morning and close at night). Besides the decorative aspect, a sense of purpose and responsibility comes with taking care of plants. We need to be needed. Feeling needed is a valuable emotional asset as people grow older and older.

Indoor plants that grow in soil or water
–all like low or filtered light

Syngonyum in water+ begonia stemSome plants, such as Syngomium, want only water and low light to survive. As with all indoor plants, the person who provides the water is needed. The Syngonium is an erect houseplant with decorative leaves. It grows well in water if the roots remain submerged (click to enlarge image) and in soil if it isn’t allowed to dry out. (Ignore the wax begonia stem with a leaf and pink blossom in the horse-radish jar. It’s just there to add color.) The Syngonium has been in that jar for a year; the begonia for two days!

Sr. Advisor R likes Philodendron: old fashion, easy care, very popular in the last century. Hers are so attractive–some growing in water in pretty glass containers, others in pots placed inPhilodendren in soil white canisters on each side of her fireplace mantel. Her plants are 5+ years old. They flow downwards (as opposed to being erect). The idea is to keep them smallish. Don’t want them dragging on a table top or the floor.

A Philodendron recently rooted in water
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Golden Pothos is an unfussy trailing vine plant that grows in all indoor light conditions; needs watering about every two weeks or when the leaves start wilting slightly. Train its vines or just cut them off when they get too long.  Place the cut-off pieces in a container of water and grow plants in water…they’ll root.
Grown in water or in potting soil, a bit of fertilizer once a year if you wish–in Spring. And they’re air purifiers.
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The Wandering Jew is another houseplant with attractive leaves, but it probably doesn’t want to be Caring for your Wandering Jew plant ... being anything but a green thumb, this is my go to hanging basket plant, beautiful, hardy, and forgiving.grown in water. Colors differ depending on variety. Often used as a hanging plant–it does “wander.”

Indeed its rapid growth is life-affirming.Because pinching off unwanted grown is easy, the plant can be confined to desired space, thus becoming an easy-care plant for old people. Not fussy about light or water, although more light brings more color to leaves. Doesn’t like dry soil, but shouldn’t die from a day of dryness. Likes to be watered, but doesn’t like soggy soil–so don’t try growing it in water.
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The Home Depot plant area greeted customers with a display of succulents the other day. The sign above advertised:  EASY CARE PLANTS  And indeed they are. However, where old people are concerned, remember:

All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.
The prickers on cacti, make them a poor choice for old people.

Most succulents: prickerless, grow slowly, need watering about once a month, have interesting shapes, only flower when they’re very happy with the location and care they get. For some older people this may be fine….but possibly boring. The Christmas cactus is an exception.

Christmas cactus likes sunlight or partial sunlight; must be in well-draining soil;  needs little water. When dry, it sort of shrivels and droops. Water probably twice a month. It blooms every year about the same time (winter) with pink, red, orange-ish blossoms.

While giving older people an easy-care plant isn’t Horticulture Therapy, precisely as it would be offered in a care center, some of the same benefits apply. Having responsibility for and caring for plants, holds promise for helping aging parents and the elderly age well.

“Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information, research from top universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Related: Terrariums–Easy Care, Live Plants in Little Landscapes. Great Gifts, Easily Made

Aging Parents: 6 Valentine’s Gifts for Patients in Nursing Homes

Several years ago a friend gave me an article about nursing home gifts from (no longer on their current site). I wouldn’t have kept it this long if I didn’t think it worthwhile (and still do). I’ve used their gift topics, added gift suggestions, photos and specific plant suggestions.

6 Gift Suggestions:
For updates go to 2013 updates


Oxallis regnalli–Shamrock Plant

  1. Plants–Especially for those who enjoyed gardening, plants give older people something to take care of and focus on outside themselves. As said often, I particularly like oxallis because they flower continually, are forgiving if not well cared for and do well in indirect light.
Red Kalanchoe, green container, ivy

Red Kalanchoe, green container, ivy

Succulents of any variety that don’t have “prickers,”–eg. sedum, kalanchoe–are also easy care, need little water, some are very attractive. They like (but can exist without) good light and flower–if you’re lucky–once a year.

Violets are more fussy but should be no problem for those who gardened in the past. They flower over a rather long period of time and need light (but not direct sunlight)–and light fertilizing to flower again after their initial blooming period.  They don’t want water on their leaves, and should be regularly turned to keep their nice shape.

Begonia varieties are numerous, colorful, most require minimal care, grow well indoors, and will flower in indirect light. (They are usually shade plants outdoors.)

Philodendrons come in all sizes, have attractive foliage, are difficult to kill, can be grown in soil or water, have no flowers, and do fine in low light. They also help purify the air.

2. Favorite music–CD’s or tapes (a collection of favorite TV shows and/or movies) would be a treat. So would a CD player. Don’t we all love watching (or listening to) our favorite movies and/or music again and again!

3.  Salon certificates: Most nursing facilities have in-house salons for hair and nails, but they require an additional charge. What about giving gift certificates for the salon? Look good, feel better!

4.  Room decorations: Framed pictures of grandchildren or the family or perhaps a comforter in their favorite color, or grandchildren’s drawings make an institutional setting feel more uplifting.

5.  Photo albums, home movies: Sharing family stories with others is a popular pastime. Photo albums, videos and movies add to the interest and fun. The technology to play them is available on most floors.

6.  Magazine subscriptions: The recreation director at an Elder-Care center in New Hampshire says “travel magazines are extremely popular around here.” Our elders are  in the best position to know whether travel, People, Fly Fishing, or National Geographic is the best fit for then.

If uncertain about gifts, phone the activities or social services department at the nursing home. Their staff should know.

Of course, as has been said many times in my blog, visits from family and friends are the best gift, especially when they bring home-baked or home-cooked food. But then, maybe the most special visitors are the babies and tots that old people can oooh and aahh over, and grand–or great-grand–parents can take pride in.

Valentine’s Day is another chance to do something special to help aging parents and elders we care about– and isn’t that our goal!

Note: Check out 8 Valentine’s Gifts for Patients–2016 update


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