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FROM THE MASTER GARDENERS: Master Gardeners Keep in Touch with Memory Care Communities During COVID

By Diane Woodward. First Published in California Garden January/February Vol.112 No.1 2021

photo credit: Chris Cho
Sensory exploration.

For the past two years, the UCCE San Diego Master Gardener Program, through its Reminiscence Gardening (RG) public outreach program, has partnered with Alzheimer’s San Diego and nine memory care communities to bring tabletop gardening activities to individuals living with dementia and their caregivers.

Reminiscence Gardening volunteers engage participants in a way that encourages social interaction, stimulates pleasant garden memories, promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Participants, affectionately referred to as “garden partners,” interact with the master gardener volunteers in activities and experiences that rekindle pleasant gardening memories as they recall gardening skills from days gone by. The focus of each RG activity is to spark memories through reliable sensory experiences that include touch, sight and smell. Remarkably, garden partners almost always connect to a vintage garden tool, the color of a blossom, the feel of a leaf, or the scent of an herb, and express that connection with visiting volunteers and other caregivers in a beautiful way.

Reminiscence Gardening activities are divided into two parts. The first is sensory exploration of herbs, garden cuttings, seasonal fruits and vegetables, garden hand tools, colorful seed packets and catalogs. Garden partners are given the opportunity to look at, feel, smell, and listen to sounds from these various items, helping them to recall pleasant memories of time in the garden. After they are acclimated, the RG volunteers bring out potting trays filled with soil, pots, colorful plants, and seasonal picks used for decoration. Participants then get to work making their own potted creation. This hands-on approach to gardening promotes a healthy lifestyle by improving energy levels, building confidence, and promoting social engagement.

When the pandemic forced memory care communities to close their doors to volunteers, the Reminiscence Gardening program mobilized to help keep their garden partners busy during isolation. The Master Gardener Program pivoted to create a set of tabletop gardening instructions any caregiver could use to provide a stimulating tabletop gardening activity. Step-by-step instructions and a list of necessary materials are available in English and Spanish on the updated Master Gardener website, Let’s Grow Together San Diego—Stay-At-Home Gardening Resources. Information on the site helps guide caregivers to facilitate garden activities, including growing microgreens, creating a garden in a pot, or planting succulents in a dish garden.

In addition, the Reminiscence Gardening team is now delivering to each memory care location complete tabletop gardening kits with soil, plants, pots and decorations— everything needed to create a meaningful experience for the garden partners. At each location, Master Gardeners are met with gratitude and thanks from the staff and activity directors. Plans are in full effect to continue these deliveries until Master Gardener volunteers can once again be on site alongside their garden partner friends.

photo credit: Debbie Handal
Reminiscence Gardening Program.

The statewide UC Master Gardener Program holds a triennial competition to celebrate and showcase the talents of the MG volunteers throughout the state. This year, judges recognized Reminiscence Gardening for its standout work and awarded the UCCE San Diego County Master Gardener Program first prize in the Search for Excellence competition.

The following links provide both quick and expanded descriptions of the Master Gardener Reminiscence Gardening program :


In 2016 Diane Woodward logged a 750 hour Master Gardener's milestone along with other accomplishments that year in

New Class Selection, New Exhibits and Design Seminars and Plant Sales, as well as, Ask A MG Hotline.


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