I thought long and hard about a title for today’s post. I thought about calling it ‘Gardening when getting older', or ‘Gardening with disabilities’, but I wanted to make sure I reached all of you and that I didn’t make a niche post for just a few. You see, I think most people can draw some nuggets from this post, regardless of your physical abilities, and even if you feel you have no issues when gardening, perhaps you know someone who has, who could need some tips.
Gardening is often viewed as a hobby for little old ladies who has nothing else to fill their days with. I am neither little (will come back to that one later) and at 48 I don’t feel a day past 25 in my head, only my body screams 85 when I get out of bed every day – so definitely not old then. My son who is 27 in a couple of weeks might beg to differ on the definition of old but everything is relative...And when it comes to gardening, we all know that anyone can have gardening as an interest, young, old, male, female, and at every level of physical ability. Over the years I have had to adapt both my garden and the way I garden to my physical limitations and I have found ways to manage even though my health has declined rapidly the last 10 years. None of my tips require any specialist equipment, just things you can get anywhere, a bit of imagination, being practical and sensible and realise your strengths as well as your limitations. And most importantly, what works for me might not work for you or anyone else, we all have to find our own way - but my tips might give you something to think about.
First tip, don’t bite over more than you can chew. I have a very small garden and since my main problem is walking, the size of my garden suits me very well. I would love to have a five times bigger garden – just think how many plants I could fit in! And I could have a green house and a shed and, and…but I would not be able to maintain a garden five times bigger, and I would probably not be able to walk to the end of a garden that size so I am very happy my garden isn’t bigger than it is. If your garden is too big, think about screening off parts of it so that you maintain the part closest to your house and leave the rest to go native.
I have done a lot of changes to my garden over the years, and one of the biggest was to get rid of the grass and to lay bark mulch in all the beds. No more mowing and no more weeding. I can potter around in the garden when I am able to and want to, not when the lawn desperately needs a trim or the weeds are popping up everywhere. My garden is filled to the rim, the plants are stacked like sardines sideways and on top of each other, but as long as it gets watered the garden is fine on its own for weeks every time I am in hospital or too ill to attend to it.
Next tip, have the right tools. Here are my most important gardening tools. A stool to sit on, as I can’t stand for long and I am unable to bend down from standing or crouch down. When I am sitting on my stool I can reach down to the ground and reach around me. I also use it when I take photos in my garden, completely priceless, I could not do gardening without my stool and I probably do 90% of gardening sitting on this stool. I also have a grabber I use to pick up and pull up things with, it can even pull up things like bind weed (oh, I do sometimes find them in my garden!) I bought the grabber to have around the house but it quickly ended up in my garden as a much more useful tool. And the tray is for anything I cut off or pick up that’s going in my bin, even when it is full I can carry it on my hip and have a crutch in the other hand. I use the tray all the time...
....that is when my cat isn’t hogging the tray. He is very quick whenever I have emptied it, he will come running and see if he can manage to jump in and have a nap here before I tip him out again.
Have things in one place. I bought these shelves earlier this year, they are made of plastic and won’t rot or rust. I have linked them together and attached them to the fence with cable ties and it will take a hurricane or two to tip these over. On these shelves I have all my seedlings and cuttings and also all my spare pots. These shelves are placed on the sunny side of my fence, but in the passage down from my back door, so the house is giving some shade during the first part of the day. That’s great for all the cuttings and seedling, mainly woodland plants, which don’t want to bake in the sun all day (ha! As if that was much of a risk here in London, we haven’t had a ‘baking sun’ summer for years!) Anyway, it’s best to place a nursery shelf like this out of the sunniest place you have, but let it have afternoon sun.
On top of the shelves is my new vegetable garden. I thought I would start a bit modest :-) Well, I didn’t have much choice, this was the only place to put some containers! I have from far left: a herb container with chives and thyme, a container with beetroot, a container with radish and finally a container with mixed lettuce. The two pots in the foreground is a passionflower cutting and an eight year old honeysuckle grown as a Bonsai tree (I try to grow a lot of things as Bonsai, just to see if it is possible, just for fun!) Having your vegetable garden on top of shelves like these might not be for everyone, the shelves are 131cm tall and the containers are 26cm tall, 157 cm in total (5’2”) making it difficult for some people to reach. To me it is just fine, I am 5’9” tall without shoes (175cm) and have no problems looking over and water the containers...
...and if I need a little bit extra height I have another useful tool in the garden, a step. It’s not very high, but it gives me that little bit extra when I need it. This plastic step was one I originally bought for my nieces when they came visiting when they were younger, as they couldn’t reach properly up to my raised toilet. Now the step has got a new life and purpose in my garden and I use it often.
I don’t have a shed so everything I need for gardening is stored here in this corner. Having everything in one place means less walking and carrying around and I sit here on my stool and can reach everything.
My council has a recycling service for composting, I just fill up plastic bags with my garden waste and send them an email when I want them to come and collect. The waste is used to make compost for the council so it’s not wasted even if I have no room for making my own compost. This is my compost bin. I used to have a much bigger one and when it was full the plastic bags became very heavy to lift out and carry through the house and out to the front garden. The bin I have now is much smaller, and fits neatly into this space next to the fence. The bags are manageable even when full. Next to the bin I have a bag of multipurpose compost, whenever it is empty, my son goes and buy a new one for me. Everything has its own place here in my garden :-)
It doesn’t rain all the time in Britain, even if that might be the impression everyone has from last year - sometimes I have to water! I have made this short piece of hose to go into my watering can so I don’t have to hold the can when it fills up. The watering can just stands on the ground with the hose inside it until it is filled and it saves my back and my arms.
I also have a long attachment for watering all the plants on my nursery shelf which attaches to this short hose. When I water the rest of the garden I use the long hose and just unclip this one. I am planning to install a soaker hose in the flowerbeds this year, that will be my big investment for this year and a big help, no more sitting on my stool on the path, pointing the hose in all directions.
Here is another photo of the long attachment, a bit easier to see what it looks like. This piece is just the right length to water the whole nursery shelf.
My garden table is harbouring a secret...
...the rest of my compost. Here I have more specialist compost and I can sit on my stool next to the table, with plants that needs re-potting on the ground next to me. No lifting of heavy bags around the garden. If I need some of this compost somewhere in the garden I take some of it into my tray and carry it to where I need it. I bought this table at Ikea and it is for outdoor use.
And with all the gardening work it is important to have a nice place to rest. A comfortable chair is vital when you have any kind of physical problems and it is important to take short breaks often. It is so easy to get carried away in the garden because it is so fun and exciting, and then feel absolutely shattered afterwards. I have learned from experience!
I also bring my phone with me out in the garden whenever I am outside, even if I am just going for a short walk to see what’s flowering since yesterday. And I have a battery operated second door bell, so I can hear my door bell when I am out In the garden. I do all my shopping online and get a lot of deliveries, often without a specific delivery date. It used to be so annoying when I missed a delivery because I didn’t hear the doorbell outside in the garden. Now I can safely be outside knowing I won’t miss a delivery. The phone is mainly for safety reasons if something happens to me when in the garden so I can call for help. Last summer I dislocated my hip replacement when I was at the bottom of my garden. It was a beautiful summers day, it was warm, I didn’t wear my usual garden cardigan and didn’t have any pockets to put the phone in so the phone was here on this table when I was at the bottom of my garden with a dislocated hip.
I therefore now have a personal alarm. It is connected to an alarm central and works just as well in my garden as it does inside my house. Should anything happen to me again and I don’t have my phone next to me, I can press this button and help will come for me. I hope I never will have to use it but it makes me feel safer out in the garden. This is a service I have to pay for but it is well worth the £8.60 per month I pay.
My most important gardening tool? Definitely my gardening stool, without it I can’t do any gardening or photography and I would be lost without it. I have had this stool for over 10 years and it is getting a bit saggy and tatty, but it is perfect for me. Sometimes I also put a cushion inside a plastic bag and simply sit on the ground and crawl around to get the job done. I have no problem getting down on the ground and stay there, it is just so bloody difficult to get up again! That’s when the stool becomes handy again, so I can use it to lift myself up. I have much stronger arms than legs.
And...remember to chill out! Gardening is also about relaxing and enjoying your garden.
And finally, just a bit about my health issues. I was born with a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disease that affects all my joints, muscles, my digestion, and a lot of other things. In addition I have a long list of other conditions that affect my quality of life, and this has had an influence on my life since childhood although I lived a reasonably normal life until the age of 30. The last 18 years I have been medically retired and my health has declined rapidly. I won’t recover or get better, all the operations and procedures I have been through (14 the last 10 years) has just been an attempt to slow down the decline – not very successfully though. I am practically housebound and only leave my house to go to hospital and doctor appointments and I walk with two crutches when out of the house. At home I try to manage with one crutch, it is so limited what you can do when both hands are occupied with a crutch each!
Over the years I have had to give up a lot of interests and hobbies due to my health problems, but I have taken up new ones instead, blogging being one of them. Gardening has always been an interest and I can truly say that my garden keeps me sane! It is often the reason for me getting out of bed and getting dressed, although I am known to garden in my dressing gown from time to time, something I am sure I am not alone in doing. You know, just popping out for one minute to check on that plant that was about to flower yesterday? And then discover something else that needed doing, and then something else, and before I know it I have been an hour or more working in my garden, still in my dressing gown…and wellies. I am sure I am a bit of a sight, but my neighbours don’t bat an eyelid anymore! Speaking of wellies, I haven’t talked about footwear, but wearing the right footwear for the job is also something many don’t think about. I don’t have a wet garden, but I wear wellies about 8 months of the year and comfortable shoes the rest. Isn’t my wellies pretty?
My garden serves many purposes since I am housebound. It is the most important room in my house and the only place I get to be outside apart from the trips to the many hospital appointments I have. It is also of course where I can enjoy my hobby gardening, but it is also where I take all my photos, another important hobby of mine. Since I don’t get to go anywhere else, my garden has become my sole object of photography, and you might think I would run out of things to photograph but I take 4-5000 photos every year in my garden so I can’t say I lack photo opportunities. Many of the photos end up here on my blog, many of them on my website and some of them have ended up as self published books. I have plans to make more books, just need to find time for it, I have been so busy lately!
There can be many reasons why people have difficulties managing in the garden, anything from just getting older to all kinds of impairments and disabilities. Whatever the reason, I have learned that I constantly have to come up with new solutions as my situation changes. What suits me now will probably not suit me in a few years time and I will have to continue to be imaginative, inventive, practical and sensible. I hope you have picked up a few useful tips here, and if nothing here suits your situation then maybe it spurred you on to come up with your own solutions. Please share with us what you do or use to help you in your garden, this could become a treasure chest of useful tips with all of you contributing too! Until next time, take care.