Gardening is a great activity for all age groups. It introduces children to the wonders of nature while prodding everyone to be more physically active and also offering a great way to refresh racing minds. As we age, however, routine gardening tasks can become more difficult. Joints get stiffer so that bending and stooping are harder. Hand strength decreases making it more difficult to grasp tools or pull weeds. Arthritis! Likewise, endurance and balance can be affected. Changes in vision affect, well, everything. Perhaps you just find that the gardening schemes in your head are just more than your stamina will allow you to do.
Rather than admitting defeat and saying that you're too old to garden anymore, why not make simple changes to the way you garden? The first step is to look at the design and layout of your garden. Is it seriously labor intensive? Or spread out over a vast area? Well then, it’s time to make some adjustments in what’s planted and where it’s planted.
It’s time to modify your garden so that most of it is planted in interesting shrubs and perennials that provide year round color and texture with minimal upkeep. Consider letting the edges of the garden revert to a more natural state that will attract wildlife. Then…select an area that’s close to the house (and driveway too, if possible) where you can “play.” A place for bright flowers, vegetables, and whatever else interests you and that you want to work with regularly during the growing season. Consider this area the accent to the rest of your garden. The crown jewel, even, or if you prefer, your laboratory.
Choosing a spot close to the house and driveway is important. It means that you won't have to walk far to get to the part of the garden where you intend to spend the most time. It also means that unloading plants and bags of fertilizer from the car will be easier. No more lugging heavy objects for long distances. Depending on your needs, this special area can focus on regular gardening in the ground, raised beds, or even containers. Perhaps a mix of all three would allow you to create a beautiful new mini garden while explore new gardening options.
If you still feel capable of gardening in the ground, make sure that the soil is loose and easy to dig in. If it isn't, then both you and the plants will be happier if you find someone to help you amend the soil. Another modification to consider is using a stool to sit on while weeding. It will eliminate the need for bending and make weeding much easier. Another option to consider is the trellis, which can be used for both ornamentals and vegetables. Trellises can be vertical lattice structures or even arches over paths or benches. They can even be teepee type structures made of bamboo poles. What could be more delightful or functional than a butterbean “tent” in the garden?
If you decide to incorporate some raised beds into your special gardening spot, then there are several approaches that you can take: more traditional raised beds with sides that are perhaps two feet high or taller raised beds that are high enough to allow cultivation while standing or sitting in a chair. If you decide to use the lower ones, then why not consider making the top of the boards surrounding the beds wide enough that you can sit on them while gardening? You may also find that the addition of grab bars to the top of your raised beds makes moving from a seated to a standing position easier.
Taller raised beds can be built from the ground up or they can be constructed like planters or garden tables with legs. Raised beds on legs can even be constructed so that wheelchair bound gardeners can push their chairs directly up to them. Whichever type of raised bed you choose, just be sure that they’re not so wide that you can’t comfortably reach the middle from the side.
To make watering your raised beds or special garden in the ground easier, consider adding soaker hoses. They can be positioned when you do your initial planting and will soon be disguised as plants grow.
If raised beds aren't an option or you just don't like their appearance, then large containers may be the perfect solution. Any type of container can be modified for use in growing plants. Cattle watering troughs, for example, make excellent small water gardens and are perfect for growing all kinds of flowers and vegetables. Hanging containers are also an excellent option for gardeners who find bending difficult. The most important consideration when adapting a container for use in the garden is drainage. If the container doesn't have holes in the bottom, then be sure to drill some before adding soil and plants.
When working with big containers, it’s important to decide where you want to put them in the garden before adding soil to them. Once they're full, they will be too heavy to move. It’s also important to ensure that the containers don’t tip over easily or get blown about by the wind. Favorite small containers can often be anchored to posts, walls, or other, heavier containers.
And now for your gardening tools. We all have favorites that we've used for years, but now may be the time to re-evaluate them and consider some of the new options available. There are trowels and weeding tools with ergonomically correct padded handles that will allow you to work for longer periods of time with less stress to your hands and wrists. Some also have brightly colored handles that make them easier to find if misplaced in the grass. There are also long handled tools, such as rakes, that have been modified to require less arm strength. Some even have shorter handles that make them perfect for using in raised beds. Similarly, there are shovels with wider, more ergonomically correct grips that make digging easier. So many new tools, in fact! Oh…and there’s one other that’s just as important as these: your cell phone. Always carry it with you in the garden. Just in case you need help in an emergency.
So…don't despair or think that you’re going to have to stop gardening just because you can’t do quite as much as you used to be able to do. Garden smarter, not harder, and enjoy every minute of it.