Elements of a Successful Outdoor Space

What are the elements of a successful outdoor space, and how do you bring one to your community?

Spring is here! And what better time to talk about outdoor spaces. Especially in dementia communities, having an outdoor space for residents is incredibly important. Since residents typically are living inside a secured community, they cannot come and go as they once could in the past. That means they’re not getting fresh air or experiencing nature, both of which are important for residents’ well-being and morale.

As you start getting your patios and courtyards ready for warmer weather, here are some important elements for a successful outdoor space:


I know this is not the most exciting element, but it is the most important. Walk around your outdoor space and address potential hazards. Make sure concrete areas are smooth and even from panel to panel. Address any large height differences between concrete and grassy areas. Look at any wood structures like decks or gazebos and fix any loose or broken boards.

Next, look at the fence. Is it high enough that residents cannot easily climb over it and elope? Many states have fence heights required by code, but 6-8 feet high is a good general range. And does the structure of the fence prevent an easy climb (like decorative features that could act as a ladder)? A great alternative to an ugly fence is landscaping with varied height trees and plants, so residents don’t even realize the fence is there!

Lastly look at the vegetation. Obvious plants to keep out are cactuses and thorny rose bushes. You should also be careful with some palms as their leaves can be sharp if brushed up against.


Residents like to sit outside for long periods and time and enjoy nature. Provide a variety of seating to fit different residents’ needs. I will typically put a dining set with mesh slingback chairs on a patio and include some other seating areas with vinyl wicker furniture with cushions (commercial grade and made for the outdoors). Make sure all chairs have arms so residents can easily get up. Shade is also very important. Provide umbrellas and/or awnings that allow residents to sit out of the direct sunlight.


The most beautiful outdoor spaces I have seen have had a few things in common. First, coordinated seating arrangements. All of your outdoor furniture should have a common theme so that the furniture looks like it was meant to live together. The easiest way to keep everything coordinated is to purchase from the same furniture collection. If a collection does not have all the pieces you’re looking for, try to keep the frame color the same. When you start mixing too many types and colors of furniture, the result often looks disheveled.

Which space would you feel more relaxed in?

Next, keep it neat and orderly. If furniture is moved, put it back where it goes. Maintain the plants and landscaping. Rake and sweep when needed. Keep the furniture clean and clear of debris.

Lastly, use lots of color! Incorporate lots of different flowering plants into the landscaping. Include window boxes and large floor pots planted with colorful annuals. Geraniums, marigolds, begonias, impatiens, pansies, and coleus are all great options. Let residents help you pull together potted plant arrangements. Ask them what their favorite flowers are and try to include those.



Many residents will not go outside on their own, or can’t because they need to be supervised. Create activities and events that encourage residents to come outside and get some sunshine. Have an afternoon ‘Garden Party’ and serve lemonade and treats. Install raised beds or a potting bench so residents can help plant seeds or seedlings. Herbs and vegetable plants are always good options. They love to watch the progress of their plants! And when plants are mature, residents can help harvest.

Rachael’s comments: These are wonderful suggestions! I think the most important thing Amanda mentioned is scheduling an activity time to spend outdoors. While it’s great to have unlocked doors leading outside for residents to go in and out of, many will not take the initiative to actually go outside without help. Have an hour block devoted to being outside on your activity calendar, but create a “backup plan” in case it rains. For example, you could always use small potted plants indoors or change up the activity to fit a rainy day!