Can gardening help manage Parkinson's symptoms?

Meet 2 people with Parkinson's who share why they love getting out into the garden and read our top tips on getting green-fingered. 

Chris's story

The danger when you've diagnosed with Parkinson’s is that you look inwards. It’s been quite a hard journey for me to get to the point where I can concentrate on the things I can do rather than all the things I can’t.

Gardening for me is about creating a lovely environment in which to live. I take great pleasure in watching things grow and transform. Knowing that I had a hand in it makes me very happy.

My father was a keen gardener but I only got into it properly once my children were big enough to look after themselves. To me, my garden is a calm and peaceful sanctuary away from the hub-bub of daily life.

As well as the obvious exercise benefits, gardening is a great escape for anyone with Parkinson’s. It’s calming and you are creating something that you can see easily the results of. Rather than focusing on how I feel in terms of my Parkinson’s, it helps me to focus on everything around me and the beauty of nature. Even though I struggle sometimes, I always achieve something!

Michelle's story

Anxiety and depression are a huge part of living with Parkinson's. They come and go - a bit like a mist that comes from the sea and creeps in without you noticing - until you feel down, and you don't know why.

Being diagnosed with Parkinson's at the age of 43 was a shock. It's a condition that can really dominate your life and make you feel totally out of control.

But for me, things that I plant and nurture in my little garden have helped me focus on the future in a positive way, which has made me feel back in control of my life again. And as my Parkinson's progresses it becomes ever more vital to keeping me physically and emotionally well.

A lot of people think that Parkinson's is limited to having a tremor, but it's so much more than that. Although I'm still young, Parkinson's has made my movements stiff - sometimes I'll freeze and feel rooted to the spot.

I never thought that I'd feel so vulnerable and worried about leaving the house. Unfortunately, people aren't always that understanding when you freeze in the middle of a busy shopping centre and they're trying to get by.

But I push myself, and one of the places I still feel really confident is the garden centre – it's got a relaxed atmosphere and there's no need to rush. I'd go there every day if I could, but my husband might object to that! 

I'm no Monty Don but gardening has changed my life and it could change yours too, whether you have Parkinson's or not. Even if you don't have a garden try to get outdoors and enjoy nature.

I personally think that life is not about reaching a certain destination - it's about the journey through each day. Parkinson's at least teaches us to slow down and stop to admire the flowers along the way. By doing this I believe we are capable of experiencing a profound beauty that may pass others by. So learn to live in the moment and appreciate life, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Top tips for gardening with Parkinson's

Even a little time spent gardening can be good exercise, so whether you prefer window boxes or an allotment, gardening can be for everyone.

We’ve brought together some tips from people with Parkinson’s and experts from the gardening world on getting started. 

Adapt your garden

• Widening pathways may help, especially if you use a wheelchair or walking aid.
• Narrowing flower beds reduces the distance you have to reach.
• Raised beds mean you don’t have to bend so far to tend to plants or vegetables.

Choose plants and tools to suit you

• Long-handled tools or high-stemmed plants mean less bending.
Ground cover planting, gravel or shingle can all help reduce weeds, meaning less time kneeling.
• Consider carrying your tools – a simple apron with large pockets, a tool belt or wheelbarrow can save you time and effort.
• Create a relaxing environment with lavender plants or the sound of a water feature.

Stay safe

• Stretching and regular breaks can stop you getting too stiff or straining your muscles.
• Remember the effect your medication may have on your ability to garden. Think about times you’re ‘on’ – and don’t forget to take your tablets while absorbed in gardening.
• Try taking a pill timer or reminder alarm to help you stay on track.

Seek advice

• Discuss your needs with a nurse, local adviser or occupational therapist, who can advise you on accessibility and daily living aids, or help you with an exercise plan that includes gardening.
• Visit our online shop, where we have a range of daily living aids, including pill timers and equipment to assist when out and about. 
• Get advice at Thrive, a charity that provides gardening information for people with disabilities.
The Gardening for Disabled Trust gives grants to people with disabilities or illness across the UK so they can continue to garden. People of any age can apply for a grant or free membership.
• If you don’t have garden access, consider visiting a public outdoor space. The National Garden Scheme is a charity that raises money by opening more than 4,000 gardens across England and Wales.