Published in Sixtyplusurfers  Autumn 2023














Gardening is good for the body and soul, so it’s frustrating that ageing can be a limiting factor when it comes to some of the necessary graft associated with the pastime.

At Cognatum’s retirement estate, Orchard Yard, in Wingham, Kent, the head gardener, Chris Jaques, who looks after the extensive estate grounds, helps residents with their own gardens (residents can do as much or as little as they like), and with the communal allotments. The grounds are planted to encourage wildlife and biodiversity, there’s an orchard, beehives, vegetable gardens and greenhouse.

Chris says, “Those who face mobility and dexterity issues in later life can still take pleasure in gardening. Downsizing often involves swapping large outside spaces for smaller ones, but small-scale gardening can be incredibly productive and beautiful, and still brings a great deal of joy.

“Personalising their own patch of garden is incredibly important to some of the residents, especially those who have left larger plots behind them. Downsizers should take all their containers and pots from their old home – it’s amazing how many can be arranged in a small space.

“It’s wonderful what can be done in limited space, and creatively planted pots are often a good solution for year-round interest. Pot gardening can also be easier for those who have some mobility issues. Pretty much anything can grow in a pot: vegetables, herbs, small trees and shrubs, climbers, roses, perennials and of course annuals.”

Chris has recently organised a spring planting workshop where residents, together with locals from the village, were invited to bring their own favourite pot to Orchard Yard for help with planting and design for a Summer display.

A charge of £10 went towards the costs of compost and plants, and the full proceeds were donated to the village defibrillator fund. An Autumn pot-planting workshop is scheduled for 28th September. Tickets cost £10 and include plants, compost and all instruction from Chris Jaques with proceeds again going to the Wingham defibrillator appeal.

Chris shares some of his tips for creating pot and container garden magic:

• Don’t overcrowd pots with too many plants.

• Pots are wonderfully flexible, you can move them around depending on which are looking best at any moment to create impact.

• Arrange pots together with tall ones at the back and shorter ones at the front. Grouping pots together also helps to prevent them drying out.

• Use a peat free compost where possible for bedding plants or a John Innes No. 3 for shrubs or trees going into a pot.

• Pots will dry out faster than beds, so water frequently, as much as every two days in dry periods, and soak the compost rather than sprinkling the whole plant.

• A layer of stones or horticultural grit on the top stops the pot from drying out.

• A layer of crocks/stones in the bottom of the pot help with good drainage.

• Regular feeding of the pots and / or incorporating slow release fertiliser granules into the compost helps the plants to thrive;

• Grouping pots together creates an interesting display and also helps to protect plants from drying out.

For those who are yet to downsize, and are finding it difficult to manage their larger gardens, Chris has the following advice:

• Consider sharing part of your garden in return for planned labour.

• Make sure paths and surfaces are level and safe.

• Invest in good outdoor lighting.

• Allow larger areas of lawn to become wild, reduce the number of beds, or change planting areas to raised beds that require less kneeling and bending.

• Use wood or metal for lawn edges to reduce hand-finishing.

• Use mulches to reduce the need for weeding.

• Choose plants that are tolerant of difficult conditions and are low maintenance.

• Invest in lightweight tools with foam cushioned grips and extendable handles;

• Install a watering system.








For more information about Orchard Yard visit

For more information:
01491 821170 /

Cognatum, a not-for-profit company, has 60 retirement estates in 21 counties across central and southern England, a total of 928 retirement homes. All are in prime locations within vibrant market towns or villages, within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Each estate benefits from thoughtful architecture, landscaped grounds, and a dedicated estate manager.