One thing older people have cherished since the lockdown is having access to private outside space

For retirees looking to downsize having a garden they don’t have to maintain is now top of their tick list.

So retirement house builders are investing in creating beautiful gardens that comply with social distancing.

We know that spending time with nature has a positive impact on our health, and particularly during these difficult times in lockdown.

Studies have found that exposure to green spaces can reduce the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stress, and high blood pressure.

But not when you have a sweaty jogger on your tail or a posse of cyclists coming at you which has been happening in public parks and on footpaths.

Phillip Hulme, Director of Sales at Anchor Hanover, which manages several retirement villages and properties all over the country, says gardens are a top priority at all Anchor Hanover’s developments.

“The health and wellbeing of our residents is paramount, so ensuring access to open space, sensory gardens and well-maintained landscaped gardens to relax and enjoy is a priority.

“Particular attention is paid to spaces such as shared gardens, courtyards for seating, and home-specific outside space which contribute towards a sense of togetherness but where people can socially distance safely.”

AH’s Meadow Court and Bishopstoke Park developments both offer a woodland setting while Hampshire Lakes in Yateley boasts lakeside scenery, wooded glades and manicured gardens where homeowners can enjoy a peaceful walk a safe two metres from their fellow residents. www.anchorhanover.org.uk

Being able to isolate in a modern apartment with access to maintained landscaped gardens has been a lifesaver for 71-year-old Margaret who lives at Mickle Hill retirement village on the edge of the North York Moors National Park.

“I have certainly benefited from living at Mickle Hill during the isolation period,” she says.

“With the weather being so nice, I have been able to make the most of the beautiful gardens and go for a walk each day. As far as I am concerned it could not be better and I feel incredibly lucky to be living here during this time.” www.rangefordvillages.co.uk

Even in London where space is at a premium, retirement operators are prioritising outside areas. Johnny Sandelson, CEO of Auriens, a high-end scheme of 55 one-and-two-bed apartments in Chelsea, has hired RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibitor Andy Sturgeon to design the garden.

“When I first embarked on developing plans for Auriens, near the top of the list of ‘must haves’ was an outdoor space,” Johnny said.

“COVID-19 is posing a series of difficult questions to the senior housing sector of the property industry with an important one being striking the correct balance between community and our clients’ privacy.

“A well-designed garden, or terrace offers our residents freedom from the confines of an apartment and the ills of isolation and loneliness.

“An outdoor space cannot just be for visual effect anymore – for older people, and especially during times of pandemic, it enables them to reap the benefits of fresh air and nature, whilst also retaining their personal space.” www.auriens.com

Enterprise Retirement Living has three beautiful villages; Mount Battenhall in Worcester, The Red House in Ripon, and Boughton Hall in Chester. Each one boasts stunning architecture and gorgeous gardens featuring mature trees and plants which attract a large variety of birds and wildlife.

The gently undulating terrain and meandering routes of the wide pathways take you from one part of the gardens to another making it easy to socially distance.

“More and more people living in our villages are taking daily walks and stopping to chat regularly with others at a safe distance,” reports sales manager Dee Hall.

“We regularly receive positive feedback from our owners, including that our locations feel like real villages.

“They comment that everyone is more friendly and chatty and when sitting on your patio, people will stop and talk.

“The gardens, some feel, have been a Godsend to everyone over these last few weeks – a real life-saver and a great asset to any development.” www.erl.uk.com

Mark Dickinson, CEO at Lifestory which encompasses PegasusLife and Renaissance Retirement villages agrees.

“Outdoor space is crucial to wellness and wellbeing with spending time in nature being beneficial both physically and mentally especially in older age.

“For Lifestory, the outdoor landscape has always been viewed just as vital as the architectural design of the buildings.”

There is certainly plenty of variety including the kitchen gardens and rose gardens at Wildernesse House in Sevenoaks, the outdoor swimming pond at Steepleton in Tetbury and the intimate gardens teeming with wildlife, bee boxes and a wildflower meadow at Belle Vue in Hampstead.

“Our outdoor areas also offer the opportunity for moments of calm alone or as part of a community, such as The Orangery at Chapter House in Lichfield to the Winter Gardens and ‘Secret Garden’ at Hortsley in Seaford,” Mark adds. www.Lifestory.group

All Retirement Villages’ communities have lots of outside space, ranging from two acres (Blagdon Village, Taunton, Somerset) to 28 acres (Elmbridge Village, Cranleigh, Surrey).

“Our residents are really enjoying their gardens and making use of the allotments, nature trails and woodland walks that our gardening teams have created at some of our villages,” says CEO Will Bax.

Since lockdown residents have set up their own inter-villages Facebook group so they can compare images of their gardens and specific trees and plants.

And down in Cornwall Bob Mehen, head gardener at Roseland Parc in Tregony, has become a video sensation among residents with his monthly virtual tour of the grounds. www.retirementvillages.co.uk

Julie Johnson, Marketing and Landscape Director of Environ Communities says the coronavirus pandemic will transform how retirement gardens are designed in future.

 Julie is landscaping Environ’s current scheme for the over-55s of 15 two-and-three-bed houses and apartments at Orchard Yard, Wingham near Canterbury.

“I have designed the garden for social distancing,” she says. “There’s a large terrace with moveable lightweight aluminium furniture – so very adaptable for changing seat formations.

“Mobile seating is key,” she adds.

The health and wellbeing of our residents is paramount

There are also open footpaths to main gardens with good visibility so people can’t bump into each other.

The vegetable gardens will comprise plots measuring 3x1metres arranged in five rows so five people can work and comply with social distancing.

She is also planting an orchard of heritage fruit trees with a huge three-metre-long oak table in the middle with benches around so people can sit together without being too close.

“It’s important to design gardens that keep people connected but comply with social distancing,” she says.

She has also created a path with a circular lawn with two seats facing each other. “I will feature more benches facing each other, two metres apart with space for wheelchair,” she adds. “So people can sit opposite each other.”

She is also designing a compartmental terraced area delineated by hedges and troughs.

Private gardens will have large paved areas with access through massive sliding doors so guests can come in by the back gate and owners from their own home. https://www.orchardyard.co.uk/

There’s plenty of space to be safe and socially distanced in the grounds of a retirement village.

Just pity the rest of us who have to brave it on the public pathways alongside sweaty runners and pavement cyclists.