And those benefits are now enriching the lives of dementia patients in Bristol, thanks to the launch of a special community allotment.
Alive Activities has been working at the site for more than 18 months, creating a ‘stimulating haven’ where people living with the degenerative illness can engage in nature-based therapy.
The space already has a seal of approval from Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, who visited the allotment at its launch and said it would ‘bring hope’ to the city.
Community gardening facilitator Guy Manchester oversees the allotment and said the response from residents and businesses has been ‘phenomenal’.
I met up with him for a volunteer session at the allotment, on Charlton Road in Brentry, to find out more about how nature can play a vital role in helping people with dementia to connect with others and rediscover themselves.
There is perhaps nobody better to head up this project than Guy, who tells me he struggled with a chronic illness for years before gardening gave him a reason to ‘get out of bed in the morning’.
He has incredible tattoos of Sarracenia flowers on his arms, which he says are his favourite plant (”They’re kind of other-worldly”).
“Gardening is beneficial across physical and mental health in general,” Guy tells me.
“But I think what makes it especially therapeutic when it comes to dementia is that it is incredibly multi-sensory, with the power to trigger memories.
“For instance, we had someone at the allotment who used to grow tomatoes as a little boy with his parents and unfortunately, had completely forgotten about it.
“The smell of tomatoes is so distinctive, and after smelling and tasting some at the allotment he was suddenly right back there.”
The allotment is paved all the way through with raised beds, making it fully accessible for wheelchair-users and anyone with mobility issues.
There’s also a wildlife area, pond, polytunnel and ‘most importantly’ a compost loo.
I spend a lovely afternoon making lavender bags and ‘butterfly pebbles’ with two visitors to the allotment that day, Mary and Ruth.
We chat about Mary’s strawberry plant at home (’I’ll bring it next week, but I think it may be a little past it”), the Olympics on TV and how banana peel is great at attracting butterflies (”They love it, for some reason”).
We follow up with a spot of potting before enjoying a slice of cake made with blueberries kindly donated from the adjoining allotment.
Mary also gets a fresh cucumber and a few cherry tomatoes to take home.
“Not enough to make chutney,” she says. “But definitely enough for a cheese sandwich.”
The allotment is a hive of colour and gentle laughter, a retreat that feels miles and miles away from the city.
“Just being outdoors can make such a difference in peoples’ lives,” adds Guy. “It’s quite wonderful.”
The allotment is open to anyone in the community living with dementia, as well as their carers, every Monday and Tuesday from 1.30pm until 3.30pm.
Sessions are free, but Alive Activities accept donations towards refreshment costs.
The charity is on the lookout for volunteers, including those to help with garden maintenance, and is encouraging anyone who’d like to be involved to contact them.
Book a visit to the allotment or find out about volunteering here: https://aliveactivities.org/dementia-friendly-allotment/