Your Garden can be your best exercise and your center of calm
I love gardens. They’re beautiful, smell good and make me pause to enjoy. Lots of people love to garden, taking pleasure in the process and the bounty. Turns out that gardening is good for you and your health. If your goal is to stay home as you age, the garden may be part of your success.
My mother-in-law is adamant that she’s going to live in her house forever. She loves her garden. It’s full of established rhododendrons and azaleas, and a lot of lawn. Most of the shrubs and bushes do well on their own. The beds still need weeding and the lawn needs mowing for several months of the year. Her favorite part is the vegetable garden. She grows a variety of fruits and vegetables. With canning, freezing and regular maintenance, she enjoys them all year long.
The garden keeps her fit. The low-impact activity strengthens her muscles and keeps her joints limber. The calm that she enjoys working in the dirt keeps her occupied and happy. And of course, the fresh fruit and vegetables keep her eating healthy and nutritious food. However, the bending down for planting, weeding and harvesting has gotten more difficult every year. We don’t live nearby and worry that she still does the things she used to, but probably shouldn’t.
We’ve considered ways to support her to continue doing the activities she loves in a less risky way and found tools and ways to make gardening easier. Frankly, she’s not going to stop, so we had to think of some ways we can help. Here are some practical ideas and resources to stay safe and comfortable while gardening.
1) Safety first – Garden tools need to be easily accessible. When you head out to weed or fertilize, be observant of how hard it is to get to your tools. Are the shears on the top shelf, rakes behind the shovels, heavy bags of dirt on the ground? Consider lowering the shelves and hooks so the reaching is comfortable and stress free. Not an option? Make the access safer by getting an adjustable 2 step ladder like this one, that can be used as a seat or help reach upper shelves. It’s about $65.00 from Amazon.
This combination seat / kneeling pad from Gardener’s Supply Company adds comfort while working and stability when getting up or sitting down.
A two-wheel wheelbarrow can be easier to use than a standard model. This one, the Lifetime 65034 gets great reviews, known for its ability to adjust so that only 15% of the load goes to you and the rest is on the wheels. It’s got a wide wheel base and is weather resistant.
2) Raise the beds – bringing the work closer to you is a great solution for too much bending. You can still weed and prune, and get your workout in, without as much reaching down. If you’re not too handy with building tools, find a handyman to help. (see #4)
These 2 are interesting options. The one on the right from Home Depot is a neat idea, for $122.00 The directions say that you can build it tool free – a lofty goal.
The tiered one is from Raised Beds, it’s height makes the work less strained and easier to keep the slugs out. This model is $399.95
3) Reduce the area – The garden area can become unmanageable over time. There are ways to reduce the work while still being able to enjoy the splendor and bounty.
Think about taking out some of the most challenging areas of the garden and extending the patio or deck. You’ll have more space for planters, with less work to do.
Vegetable gardens are hard work. Instead of planting a vegetables, consider looking into local Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). They are local farmers who deliver fresh vegetables and fruits right to your door, weekly or on a schedule that you prefer. Many services include local meats, dairy products and bakery goods. For more information, this article from A Sharp Eye is a good one.
Replace part of the garden or lawn with a rain garden. Rain gardens are depressed areas of the garden that collect runoff from driveways, roofs and other hardscapes, and allows the water to seep into the ground. The process cleans up to 90% of pollutants from the water. More benefits of rain gardens are they contain local, low maintenance plants, and provide healthy places for butterflies and song birds. Find out more about rain gardens from the EPA. A resource for the Pacific Northwest is 12,000 Rain Gardens in Puget Sound. They may be able to help you find one in your area.
4) Hire out the tough stuff – There are activities that may not be wise for you to do any more, and there are plenty of people ready to help. Check your local Senior Center for resources. The one in my community has a list of volunteers that are just waiting to help with projects like these. If that isn’t the case where you live, try calling a nearby church for suggestions. I use Craigslist to find local help for;
- Building raised beds
- Removing waste
- Mowing yards
Landscape Architects can provide ideas to help you reduce the maintenance of your garden, while keeping the integrity of its benefits and the area safer for you. Invite one to your garden for their advice. The ASLA is a national membership organization and a good resource to find a landscape architect near you.
Local gardening groups can be a fun place to get to know fellow gardeners and continue your own education. The National Garden Clubs will help you find a Club in your area.
If you aren’t keen on gardening but want to support your loved ones to continue their pleasure, consider helping out occasionally. During the busy season, volunteer to weed, mow and prune. An extra set of hands can make a big difference in the workload. It can be great day, while you’re helping out, you’re also getting to spend some quality time with your loved one. Win-win ( I love win-wins). Are you too far away for a visit? Arrange for someone else to help out for a day or two.
When your goals include staying in your home, keeping fit and enjoying your days are important, and help to achieve those outcomes. Gardens are a wonderful source of beauty, great low-impact exercise and good for the soul. Keep it up to stay healthy and happy, just make sure that you’re safe while working.
If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.
*Make sure to warm-up and stretch a little before you start gardening