When Merv Taylor and his wife Sylvia moved to Bupa St Kilda Retirement Village in Cambridge four years ago, they didn't know a soul. But they've quickly made friends and built a community – partly due to Merv's love of gardening.
He's part of a tight-knit group of gardeners who tend the village's communal vegetable plot. "I've made a lot of friends through the garden," he says. "People know who we are and come and ask us if we've got something in the garden, and if we do we'll go and get it for them."
While the couple's two-bedroom villa has its own flower beds and a small vege plot, Merv enjoys looking after the communal vegetable garden because it keeps him fit and active and involved in the village community.
"It's a couple of hours a day exercise, and it keeps me occupied," he says. "I'd be a bit lost without it."
The former truck driver says he and Sylvia chose the village, which is home to about 130 residents in 99 villas, because it felt like a good size for them – not too big and not too small.
It's big enough to have its own full-time gardener and maintenance man to do the heavy jobs, but small and personal enough that the residents can enjoy the benefits of maintaining their own gardens and helping out around the place.
He says people often comment that the homegrown veges taste better than those from the supermarket.
"We don't use any sprays and the only fertilisers we use are blood and bone and lime. We also have a compost heap and three compost bins, which the other residents can throw their scraps into."
"From Monday to Friday we go over at about eight o'clock in the morning and we're there until about 10 o'clock. We'll have a look and see what needs doing. We know what to do and it gets done."
He says gardening is great exercise, a brilliant mood booster and a fun way to connect with other people, but it's not the only way to keep active and engaged during your retirement. "I like getting out gardening but there are lots of other things you can do."
Merv's wife Sylvia gets her daily exercise by going for a walk, and the village offers plenty of other activities and hobbies, from bowls to board games. "You can join in whatever you like," says Merv. "Just join in – it doesn't matter if you're not very good, just join in."
Merv's top tips for an active gardening retirement:
- Give gardening a go, even if you've never done it before. "Just dig up a patch and get started – it's easy!"
- As well as being good for your physical health, being outside in nature is good for your mental health and wellbeing. Get into a routine of checking your garden each day and spending a couple of hours pulling out weeds and keeping things tidy.
- It's also good for the environment. Don't forget to save your scraps for the compost bin instead of throwing them out with the landfill.
- Join a gardening group for friendship and motivation. If you're new to gardening this is a great way to learn from more experienced gardeners.
- It's very rewarding to share the fruits of your labour with others by selling or giving away your produce.