Our speaker this month will be Toni Gattone, with the topic of ‘You Can Garden for Life with Adaptive Gardening’. She will bring tools that will be handy for us as we age in the garden, and advice on how to make gardening more accessible to us through the years.
I’d like to share what I have learned in working in my own garden and working with clients of all ages throughout the last 20 years.
A first consideration is the back! I see my husband, after planting and weeding, coming into the house holding his lower back! What a difference it would have made if he had been working in a raised bed: many times I’ll suggest installing raised vegetable beds: usually 18” high made with 2x6 redwood boards. And to make working in the beds easier, we’ll keep the width to 3’ and build a ledge on one long side so one could sit on the ledge while working, or at least place plants and tools on the ledge while planting. And raised beds (maybe 24” high?) are great if one needs to sit in a chair or wheelchair to comfortably garden. And, of course, if you want to garden standing up, the beds can be even taller.
And our knees! Knee pads are great, but with raised beds, there’s no embarrassing struggle to get up off the ground on less than youthful knees!
I’m sure Toni will have tools that will help in gardening with plants in the ground, and not necessarily in raised beds.
Last month we talked about paths. Well constructed ones are essential for secure footing in a garden—and one thing I’ve learned over and over again is that one stair can be a hazard, and oddly enough two or more not so much. One stair is easy to miss: more than one is easier to see in a garden. When there are stairs, it’s a good idea to either change the direction of the material, e.g. from a deck, lay the boards perpendicular to the deck boards, when building stairs change the material, e.g. from going from a decomposed granite path, perhaps lined with bricks, to stairs made with bricks, and if the whole path is bricks or stones, change the pattern when constructing the steps. The brain will, consciously or unconsciously, register that a change is coming and will pay more attention to the transition.
I always want to put benches in backyards. Even if the homeowner doesn’t think they’ll use them, they are an ‘invitation’ to sit and enjoy a specific area of the garden. And who knows, as the homeowner ages, they will probably use the benches!
Decreasing maintenance in the garden is more and more important as our lives become busier and as we age. 2-3 inches of mulch goes a long way in eliminating weeds, in insulating our soil to be warmer in winter and cooler in summer, and in conserving water in our drought prone climate. There is no downside, except for keeping a small patch for our native bees to build their homes.
The other strategy to lower maintenance is to grow more shrubs (right ultimate size for the space so no or little pruning will be needed in years to come) and to grow more perennials than annuals to reduce the need for replacing plants seasonally. We are very fortunate in the Bay Area to be able to grow such a variety of great plants year round.
Since gardening and our gardens bring us such great joy, why not make it easier to continue gardening for as long as we can!