Studies show that being outside, in nature, or even viewing a well-maintained landscape can have positive mental and physical effects, especially as we age. Too often, limitations in strength, mobility and stamina can reduce our enjoyment of our yards and gardens. Why not begin to change your garden to accommodate your future needs? Adapting your outside space to encourage gardening at any age is well worth these benefits:
- Gardens are mood-boosters, they stimulate your senses and make you happy.
- Gardening is a moderately intensive aerobic workout, allowing you to stay flexible and keep that great body in shape.
- Gardening is a wonderful hobby, outdoors in the summer and indoors year ’round.
There’s no question that gardening is still more challenging as we age. All the bending, lifting, kneeling, squatting and pruning can be difficult. Now is a great time to think about changing your garden to accommodate the older body. For instance, my mother-in-law gave up her in-ground tomato, zucchini, and pepper garden to grow vegetable and flower plants in large pots. She placed them around her nice flat deck, so she is able to easily water and maintain them, and the plants have produced some wonderful veggies. (See some pictures below.) Here are a few tips to improve your garden so you can continue to enjoy it as long as you are able:
- Create raised beds to improve drainage and make harvesting easier. Lightweight plastic timbers can be stacked to form raised beds at waist or wheelchair height if necessary. This will minimize bending and straining. Make sure not to make the beds too wide, so you can reach into the middle of them.
- Convert your garden to large pots or vertical gardens by growing vining plants upward using trellises, stakes, fences, walls or arbors as supports. This can make harvesting easier and make the footprint of your garden smaller.
- Change your mulch from chunky wood bark to pavers or pea gravel paths. Make sure your paths are at least 4′ wide to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.
- A fenced garden may be beneficial by providing protection against deer and other critters. You may consider adding latches and locks if the gardener has memory problems and is prone to wandering.
- Install an irrigation system to easily water gardens, and add low-voltage or solar lighting to paths and steps.
Once your garden is improved, remember these important tips for YOU:
- Don’t overdo your gardening and plan on taking breaks at least every hour. Hydrate with water and have your cell phone on you at all times. Avoid ladders, loose mulch, roots that may cause tripping.
- Work when it’s cooler, in the morning and evening.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, gardening gloves and apply generous amounts of sunscreen, including lip balm, with an SPF of at least 30. If the pests are out, use your insect repellent.
- Switch from one activity to another, and avoid straining any certain group of muscles.
- Have a cart specially designed to sit on, with enough room to haul all of your tools and fertilizers, etc. with you. There are also kneeling benches, knee pads and gardening tools designed for seniors. Spray paint or wrap your garden tools in bright neon colors. They are easier to see if dropped.
Remember to grow a little garden on your windowsill during the cooler weather. Flowers and plants will always improve your spirits and add a dash of green to your life.
This is Janet. She is an active senior who still lives in her own home and has always had a garden. The garden has changed over the years from a large patch to planters and pots, but the produce is just as sweet.
This shiny purple ride is Janet’s garden scooter. From the grippy rubber wheels all the way to the solid metal swivel seat, attached basket for tools and handle to pull or steady oneself, it’s a good tool for the senior gardener.
This shows Janet’s garden in mid-summer. Notice pepper and basil are planted in lightweight plastic pots and set behind blooming plants in the garden. Soil can be amended to be perfect for the vegetable’s growing preferences, and pots allow just a wee bit of height to pick the produce.
Here is one of Janet’s pickle plants. Notice the tomato cage the allows vines to grow out of the pot.
Janet found it necessary to tie her plants to additional support, such as this deck railing. Water and occasional fertilizer has helped these tomato plants thrive.
Yellow plum tomatoes are delicious, no matter what age you are. They are wondering straight from the plant, and low in acid.