Gardening enthusiasts derive joy and satisfaction in reaping what they sow and dining on what they grow. When they retire, it’s only natural for them to go where the grass is greener and carry on with their hobby (or actualize their life calling) until it’s time to transition into the Garden of Forever. Which areas in the Motherland and beyond will fulfill this dream?
The ideal place to retire for gardeners is wherever they can garden 24/365, such as tropical countries or areas with constant warm year-round temperatures. As the climate is an individual preference, a good rule of thumb is to plan what you want to grow. This will direct you to the right venue.
So you’ve decided that the best way to plant the seeds of retirement is to uproot yourself. We get the irony. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of places where you can indulge in your craft and enjoy the ‘wisdom years’ here and abroad.
What Does Your Garden Grow?
When choosing where they want to live out their twilight years, most would-be retirees ask, “Where do I want to go?” But experts recommend that gardeners en route to retirement should instead ask, “What do I want to grow?”
Your answer will determine your garden retirement haven. When you move there, take a Master Gardening course to learn how to garden in your new environment.
Certain states are known for their fruits like Georgia is with peaches and Florida with oranges. So if you want to grow citrus fruits, move to Florida or Arizona, where they flourish abundantly. Head to Oregon if you hanker for pear and berry-friendly soil—also conducive to cultivating lawns, vegetables, and landscape plants.
Tropicals (pineapples, guavas, mangoes, bananas) thrive in San Diego and Florida because their climates are similar to these fruits’ original habitat (includes Hawaii). Their ample rainfall ensures an optimum environment for these crops.
The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service claims the top five vegetable-producing states to be California (60% of output), Florida, Washington, Wisconsin, and Idaho. The last two are the lead potato producers. For grains, soy, and corn, look to the Midwest’s Corn Belt.
Lilacs, crepe myrtles, agapanthus, azaleas, rhododendrons, and gardenias love San Francisco and the southern states. Both are good for blends too.
Factors to Consider in Garden Retirement
- Environmental: climate, precipitation levels, sunshine, altitude, soil type, temperature, growing season duration, pests, toxins
- Garden-centric: horticultural societies, gardening events, botanical gardens, nurseries, gardening supplies
- Sociocultural: safety, medical facilities, community, places of worship, political leaning, cost of living, pace of life, taxes, transportation, leisure options
- Areas with the most rainfall grow the widest variety of flora
- Perennials won’t last in hot, humid climates
- Many coveted plants need winter chill to grow
- If you prefer four seasons, choose an area with minimal or no snow
- If you love snow, extend the gardening season with a greenhouse
- Don’t stop gardening when the outside freezes up. Simply do other fun stuff
Lengthier Growing Seasons
Consider the south and areas on higher altitudes. A chrysanthemum cultivator from Columbia, South Carolina, claims that at his farm’s altitude, the daily temperature year-round was 64-68°F (or 17.5-20°C). Hawaii boasts the same, but it’s notoriously expensive to live there.
California is a major participant in city gardening. In Sacramento, Soil Born Farms, an urban agriculture and education project, offers resources to their community and rallies them to maximize food production. In Fresno, community gardens endeavor to make fruit and vegetable prices more accessible.
Seattle, Washington, urges residents to engage more in community gardening. Tucson, Arizona, encourages locals to join community gardens. Nevada’s desert environment lets residents practice alternative gardening methods. Las Vegas boasts its first urban farm, the Vegas Roots Community Garden.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers various urban agriculture programs. Growing Power founder Will Allen helped pioneer aquaponics. Washington, DC, is an urban gardener’s paradise with 27 community garden plots per capita.
Choose states without freezing winters, such as Hawaii, California, Florida, Arizona, and portions of the Deep South and Texas. Here, you can plant two crops of cool-weather veggies. Plant the first crop in January; the second, in the last week of August. Grow warm-weather veggies from April to early winter.
If you can’t decide on retirement crops now, check out USDA’s average annual precipitation map. Generally, the East Coast has snow and rain, the West Coast is arid, and the Midwest holds the balance. So, go where water is abundant. It’s not that simple, however.
Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) Executive Director Scott Marlow explains that high precipitation levels can be bad for gardening because the rain comes with problems like reduction of crop quality, harvest interference, and splash erosion, which spreads pestilence. (RAFI is a farmer advocacy organization in North Carolina.)
Marlow adds that California farmers don’t have these difficulties because controlled irrigation provides their water needs.
Innovative southern farmers, though, have addressed the above challenges by using high tunnels to prolong the growing season and as rain protection for fragile crops. They also use black plastic mulch to shield crops during the rainy season.
USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zones map categorizes regions according to climate. It tells gardeners which plants thrive well in a locale. Find your gardening zone by typing your zip code.
Some feel Zone 7 is perfect from a gardening standpoint: cold enough for chill-dependent plants but warm enough for warmth-dependent crops. If you love snowy winters, this is the wrong zone. Others argue that Zone 8 is the ideal: clement but not tropical and cool enough for flowers but warm enough for trees.
Join the Movement
According to Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress, there are plans to diversify the nation’s production in other areas, like the cotton-harvesting states, to lessen dependence on California, which is facing the worst drought in 1,200 years. It has significantly lower precipitation levels now compared to the previous century.
Agriculturists are considering Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Alabama, and Georgia for diversification. Take your cue from them if you want to join the movement with your fruit-and-vegetable farm.
Retirement on Home Turf
Breck’s compiled lists on the best and worst US cities for green thumbs. Unlike their lists, which ranked the best cities for gardening according to the number of garden-centric enterprises per capita and 55°F (13°C) temperatures, our list doesn’t have rankings, and the selections are not in a particular order. Instead, we chose the ones most popular with gardeners.
Utopia for most retirees. True gardening fanatics are unfazed by its astronomical cost of living. After all, this is the gardener’s ultimate paradise.
Mild but overcast winters and seemingly endless rain typify this region (which includes British Columbia, Canada). But it is home to the most diverse flora in North America. If you dislike constant rainfall, this zone isn’t for you.
Winter is considered the garden season here when cyclamen and hellebores bloom. Few places lay claim to their flowers blooming at Christmas. Oregon and Washington have many nurseries that cultivate rare species.
Portland, Oregon, was the first on Google Trends’ list of top US cities conducive to gardening. Google based their 2012-2017 ranking on cities with the most searches for the term ‘gardening.’ Portland got the highest score on the scale: 100. In second place, Seattle, Washington, scored 85.
Being the biggest producer of raspberries, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots (per the Consumers’ Union), California is the best retirement locale for growing fruit, especially oranges, grapes, and apples. Veggie gardeners, consider moving to its vegetable valleys: Salinas, Imperial, and Central—keeping in mind that they also have water woes.
Anywhere from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego offers the best gardening conditions. Heather, a native Californian, says their orchard and coastal regions’ mild weather is suitable for growing herbs, boxwoods, ivy, roses, palms, Macadamia nuts, avocado, and citrus fruits.
North California, areas closer to the coast, and those north of Marin County are better for plants that need winter chill. Natives claim you can grow anything here found on the East Coast. South Californian clay soil can sustain almost anything.
That’s why retirement communities abound in California. Garden devotees will endure fires, earthquakes, traffic, and high prices for its fabulous gardening environs.
Residents enjoy gardening throughout the year—almost. In the summer, have measures in place to sustain your garden amidst blistering temperatures. Novices, enroll in classes specific to Florida gardening. Also, prepare for the southeast freezes, which can eradicate citrus plants. The same kind of frost doesn’t have the same effect in California because the cooldown there is gradual.
You can’t beat the humidity, heat, drought, and plant critters, but you can work around them by planning ahead. Set up your garden early. Have the appropriate seeds handy.
Flower Power Daily’s Muriel Vega suggests planting herbs, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, peas, okra, and artichokes in the summer. Plant spinach, turnip, carrots, onion, radish, and strawberries in autumn.
West Palm Beach
Vega suggests summer and autumn crop planning while the last spring frost in early March thaws. It’s also a good time to start planting veggies.
The growing season here is from October to April. Begin seed planting for veggies indoors in the cooler months. The average temperature is 74°F (23.3°C).
Fondly called the Gardening State, Vermont has long, freezing winters, but it’s a gardener’s dream because of its rural landscape in the warmer months. It is an environmentally aware state that requires the labeling of all edible products with genetically modified organisms.
The vegetable gardening craze permeates the foodie culture here. Vermont has the most farmers’ markets per capita in the US, says local food advocacy group Strolling of the Heifers.
Thanks to its all-year moderate climate, folks relocate here just for the sunshine. Retirees garden year-round. Residents produce crops even in the cooler months. In Phoenix, the Valley Permaculture Alliance educates people on sustainable desert living.
A gardening oasis with its lush landscape, this state’s specialties include sweet potatoes and collard greens. It can get extremely humid, however. Gardeners also have to contend with Japanese beetles, rabbits, and deer.
Wilmington’s picturesque coastline and beaches aside, its average 64°F (17.8°C) temperature allows 365-day gardening. Take veggie plants outdoors mid-April. Extend veggie growing into winter with protected garden beds.
Columbia, South Carolina
With its all-year 65°F (18.3°C) temperature, Columbia is a gardening sanctuary. It ranked second in Breck’s best gardening cities list.
Pick Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC for their vivid autumn colors, balmy winters, and pleasant springs/summers. West Virginia boasts a mountainous terrain, mild climate, and a wide variety of indigenous flora.
Some compare Kentucky to San Francisco because of its temperate climate, but it gets quite hot and humid. So, garden early in the morning. Beware of black spots and Japanese beetles if you grow roses.
The uninitiated usually envision frozen tundra when they think of Alaska. But this is where you can grow giant veggies for entering into state fair contests. Alaskan summers have 24-hour daily sunshine, which explains the humongous crops. Anchorage Daily News claims the state holds the record for the world’s biggest cabbage and rutabaga, plus the planet’s heaviest carrot.
Veggies and herbs dominate gardens here. Plant sweet potatoes in late May. Have extra water handy during the scorching summer.
Plant veggies and flowers simultaneously in late May. The average 57°F (13.9°C) temperature prompts gardeners to keep plants warm with a greenhouse or a raised garden bed.
With an average 63.5°F (17.5°F) temperature, prepare for potential freezes. Begin gardening while the ground isn’t frozen. Start veggies in April; max by early May.
Cool weather promises grapes and various berries. Fruits on vines need lots of room, so allocate space for them when planning your garden. Beware of unexpected freezes when transferring veggie seedlings outdoors.
In Amarillo, plants annual blooms in April; veggies in 60-degree weather. Start them indoors, then transplant outdoors later. Prepare for freezes later in the year. El Paso is another Texan contender for garden retirement. Austin ranks fifth in Google Trends.
Other Desirable Garden-Centric Venues
In the Garden State, New Jersey, most of the produce comes from the south. New York is the second favorite after California for growing apples and grapes. Denver, Colorado, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, are tied in third place in Google Trends. Runner-ups include Montana, Maine, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Georgia.
Retirement Beyond Our Shores
The US dollar goes a long way overseas. This means you can live like royalty in other countries, depending on exchange rates. Everything costs much less: real estate, living expenses, medical, transport, food, goods, and services. For example, you can get a haircut for $3 in Malaysia.
The country offers a nifty national card for seniors that gives them numerous discounts. Depending on the region, expatriates can live comfortably on a monthly stipend of $1,600 to $3,300—including rent and health care.
Despite having one of the highest living standards in Europe, Spain also enjoys one of the lowest living costs. It has islands, fine wine, and cuisine, plus a stable government. Its Golden Visa program allows foreigners to take up residence easier. Year-round warm weather allows the production of vegetables and fruits for local consumption and export.
Picture-perfect beaches aside, Portugal has the prime environmental ingredients for gardening. Foreigners can get by in major cities without knowing Portuguese. Expatriate couples can easily live here on $2,500 monthly.
Gardener retirees will appreciate Slovenia’s campsites, thermal pools, and biodiverse forests. A couple can easily live here on $1,250 monthly.
This continent offers mind-boggling cultural options and astounding geographic diversity. Residential choices include urban condos, countryside mansions, mountain villas, rice paddies, fruit plantations, rainforest tree houses, beach resorts, and ocean huts-on-stilts.
Those unfamiliar with developing countries will be surprised to find advanced ICT and banking infrastructure, cosmopolitan cities, luxury accommodation, ultra-modern leisure facilities, and health care at par with their European and American counterparts—but affordable.
Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam top the venues where Europeans and Americans retire. Average monthly costs of living range from $1,000 to $2,500. The tropical climate ensures ultra-diverse flora for avid gardeners.
Gardener retirees will appreciate the year-round cultivation of roses here, where most of the world’s roses are produced. Recommended countries include Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Countries suited for garden retirement include Panama and Costa Rica. In 1948, Costa Rica abolished its armed forces, paving the way for a stable democracy and freeing health and education funds. Its tropical climate produces bountiful harvests of diverse crops.
Americans appreciate Panama’s lower taxes and its use of the US dollar. Gardeners are thankful it’s not on the hurricane belt.
Gardening goes beyond being a pastime that promotes health and wellbeing. It also balances one’s chi and unifies the body, mind, and soul. No region dedicated to this lifestyle is perfect. Even those that appear so have tradeoffs, such as natural disasters, political turmoil, or pests. The trick is to find the right balance. Compromise, if necessary, once you find your ideal.
No matter where you go, however, ensure other activities outside gardening grab your interest there. In every retirement scenario, change is imminent. You may discover other satisfying pursuits worthy of your time.
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- Houzz: Looking for a Perfect Gardening Weather Place to Retire
- Houzz: Best place to live/garden
- Live and Invest Overseas: The Best Place to Retire
- AARP: Where to Retire If You Love the Outdoors
- AARP: 10 Great Sunny Places to Retire
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- HGTV: Plant Hardiness Zones
- Lawn Starter: The 10 States That Dig Gardening the Most
- Lawn Starter: The 5 US Cities That Really Dig Gardening
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- Nerd Wallet: Best Cities for Urban Gardening
- Mother Jones: There’s a Place That’s Nearly Perfect for Growing Food. It’s Not California.
- Business Insider: The 10 best countries to retire in, according to expats
- New York Post: Here are the 12 best countries to retire in
- Country Living: The 10 Best Places in the World to Retire
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- US News & World Report: The Best Places to Retire Overseas in 2020
- US News & World Report: The Best Places to Retire in 2021
- Best Place to Retire: Best Places to Retire in Rural Areas
- Investopedia: 10 Countries Where You Can Live Like a Millionaire