Dorothy Myers stood before an eagerly listening audience Tuesday at Balfour Lavender Farms Senior Living Center in Louisville to teach residents about the facts and figures of habitat gardening in Colorado.

Ashley White, of the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, shows Balfour residents her planting techniques. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Ashley White, of the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, shows Balfour residents her planting techniques. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Myers, who works as an educator and exhibit guide at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, informed residents that despite the dry, arid climate in Colorado, native perennial flowers are able to flourish because of extremely deep root systems.

Sixteen Balfour residents attended Myers’ presentation, all of whom had deep roots themselves. One resident was getting ready to celebrate her 90th birthday, while another had just moved into the facility after living in Louisville for most of her life.

The residents were invited to attend the educational talk and afterward help staff from the Butterfly Pavilion plant a garden filled with wildflowers such as evening primrose, yellow columbines, and bee balm in the community garden outside the facility. The flowers will grow and blossom to accommodate pollinators such as butterflies, bees, birds, and other insects, which will in turn benefit the entire local ecosystem.

Each year, the Butterfly Pavilion selects several organizations to take part in the Healthy Habitats Gardening Project, which donates environmental education programs and a garden filled with perennials to facilities in need.

According to the Butterfly Pavilion’s Ashley White, who works as the community habitats manager, Balfour was a perfect place to plant a pollinator garden.

“These gardens not only provide services for the pollinators, but having access to a beautiful space is healthy for people, too. Having the opportunity to be out and hang out with the blooms and see the visiting wildlife, that is just a wonderful way to enjoy nature. It’s a wonderful way to get physical activity, and it’s a wonderful way to learn about the wildlife that surrounds us here in Colorado,” White said.

Desirae Gonzales, executive director at Balfour, said the senior care facility was excited to bring the Healthy Habitats Gardening Project to residents.

Ashley White, left, and Dorothy Myers, of the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, show Balfour residents their planting techniques. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Ashley White, left, and Dorothy Myers, of the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, show Balfour residents their planting techniques. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

“We are very thrilled to have this partnership with Butterfly Pavilion as it will benefit our residents and stimulate their psychological well-being, feeling of accomplishments and enjoyment, while providing peace, cognitive benefits, increase creativity, long life learning, and engagement while implementing physical therapy through movement and strength,” Gonzales said.

EJ Choe, life enrichment director at Balfour, said lower-key activities such as gardening are helpful to residents who may be more introverted.

“We have some residents who are more quiet. They don’t usually come to our happy hours, or our concerts or our dances — instead they keep to themselves — they like to read, and they like things like gardening.”

Louise Garrels, director of marketing and communications at Balfour, also touched on the importance of providing activities that enrich all aspects of a resident’s life.

“This kind of gardening has a kinesthetic component to it. There’s movement, there’s smell, there’s color — they can feel and touch the earth, and that is just as important as (being social),” said Garrels.

“The residents didn’t come here to die — they came here to live,” added Garrels.

Healthy Habitats Gardening Program

From the Butterfly Pavilion

What: This program provides technical guidance, leadership and empowerment in creating butterfly habitat gardens and related adult educational programming at assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care, and rehabilitative facilities

Who: Butterfly Pavilion Horticulture and Community Programs departments, with the assistance of volunteers

Where: Skilled nursing, assisted living, memory care, and rehabilitative facilities throughout the Front Range of Colorado, communities from Salida in the south to Ft. Collins in the north and Greeley in the East.

When: Between 2 – 7 facilities are selected each spring, the gardens installed each summer, and activities provided year-round

Why: To provide a sense of ownership, lifelong learning, physical activity and enjoyment among older adults while providing more urban/suburban habitat for Colorado butterflies and other beneficial wildlife.

One of the most common comments Butterfly Pavilion staff hears from visitors is, “I just don’t see as many butterflies as I used to.” Many older community members grew up in Colorado and have witnessed unprecedented development in the state over the past few decades. The latest U.S. Census Bureau brief on data from the 2015 Census shows significant growth in the older adult demographic, who now make up more than 14.9% percent of the U.S. population. Yet few programs exist to give the, opportunities to make positive impacts in their communities.

Many older adults feel strongly about the natural world, associating it with past experiences and future well-being. The Healthy Habitats Gardening Program serves older adults in the Front Range community by bringing the experience to the audience, instead of the other way around. For those individuals with limited mobility, a nearby habitat garden can provide much-needed contact with nature and a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. Some of these people have spent a lifetime in gardens and can contribute their considerable experience and enthusiasm. Other folks appreciate the added color and fragrance, opportunities to work with others, or the chance to try something new.

Multiple studies demonstrate that horticulture therapy can dramatically increase quality of life for aging and older adults. These benefits may include:

Psychological well-beingfeelings of accomplishment, enjoyment, peace.
Researchers found a significant differences in a Life Satisfaction Inventory between a control group of older adults and a group of older adults that participated in a gardening program 1 hour a week for 7 weeks. (Sommerfield et al).

Cognitive benefitsopportunities for creativity, lifelong learning and engagement.
Alzheimer’s patients who participated in horticulture therapy twice weekly for 12 weeks showed measurable cognitive improvement over the control group. (D’Andrea et al).Researchers reported that a therapeutic garden significantly reduced the incidence of inappropriate behaviors in a long-term dementia care facility in Canada. (Detweiler et al)

Physical therapymovement, strength-building, flexibility.
In a sample of 53 older adults, those who identified as gardeners demonstrated significantly stronger grip and pinch strength than those who identified as non-gardeners. (Park et al)Older gardeners, if they garden for one hour, meet the physical activity recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bringing their heart rate to 98 and their oxygen uptake to 13.5 ml/kg/min.


Since 2002, the Healthy Habitats Gardening program has provided this experience to over 3000 individuals at 62 different senior facilities in the Denver metro area. Over the course of a year, participants learn about habitat gardening, engage in horticulture therapy, and enjoy the butterflies and blooms. Participants receive social benefits from interacting with one another and with the program volunteers. These gardens also provide food and shelter for pollinators along the Front Range of Colorado, where rapid development threatens populations and their habitats.

This program, which was recognized with the Citizen/Community Award from Colorado Alliance of Environmental Education in 2010, has continued to draw interest from senior centers throughout the Colorado Front Range.

Two to seven facilities are selected each year, based on resident interest, need, site availability, engagement opportunities, and more. These facilities receive environmental education programs in the spring, and in the summer, Butterfly Pavilion staff and volunteers come to the facility with native perennials that attract butterflies and beneficial wildlife to help residents plant their garden. These garden programs and habitat gardens may reach dozens of residents at each site, and the gardens remain part of the facility for as long as the community desires. Butterfly Pavilion staff and volunteers conduct a survey with the facilities at the end of the year in order to evaluate the success of the program and make improvements for continued growth. Butterfly Pavilion horticulturists are also available for consultation at any time, and each facility receives a “Care Packet” with habitat gardening resources and other ideas about using the new garden in a variety of programs for the residents.

In speaking to the activity directors of participating facilities, the Butterfly Pavilion has been thrilled to learn that residents are more active, that they enjoy visits from butterflies and that they noticed more about the natural world. All evaluations noted that residents spent more time outdoors after the program. One activity director who participated in the program recalled, “Never before have the seniors spent so much time in the courtyard. Residents who were opposed to fresh air and sunshine went outside.” Another director from that year mentioned, “The seniors love not only the butterflies, but the beautiful flowers as well.”