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Maintaining Independence in Later Life: The Importance of Home Gardens and Gardening

This thesis explores the meaning and significance of the home garden and gardening in the lives of older people, together with the difficulties that maintaining the garden in later life can present. This is done within the context of current adult social care policy in England, and the New Labour government’s agenda of choice, independence, personalisation and accountability. The study on which this thesis is based involved a two-stage qualitative research process with a total of 42 respondents aged 58-92 years all of whom were white with the exception of five Asian men. Stage 1 involved conducting focus groups and in-depth interviews with nine men and 18 women. Stage 2 comprised an 18-month longitudinal study with eight men and seven women. Four respondents from this stage also opted to take part in the Photovoice method.

The research on which this thesis is based suggests that the garden is an important part of the home as well as to identity and impression management. Of particular significance is the connection to nature that a garden can provide and the variety of benefits that spending time in the home garden and gardening brings. Yet there are barriers to older people in seeking support to maintain their gardens when health problems prevent them from doing this themselves. Older people may suffer both practically and psychologically when gardens deteriorate.

This thesis challenges the concept of home that underpins significant areas of social policy by providing further evidence about the importance of the garden in the lives of older people. I illuminate some of the complexities involved in competing policies focusing on the ageing population: the mixed economy of welfare; personalisation and choice; and independent living. The thesis concludes with recommendations for further research and policy including the suggestion that funding and building capacity within the Home Improvement Agencies and Enhanced Handyperson Services to provide gardening schemes for older people would be a positive and feasible future policy direction.

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