Gardening for a Lifetime

Garden a4Gardening makes me happy. I think about, dream about, and plan for it all the time. If I was 40 years younger, I’d become a horticulturist. After retiring years ago, I enrolled in the Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener course through Virginia Cooperative Extension. I loved everything about the course — the speakers, my classmates, being at Green Spring Gardens, even the studying. I realize it was easier when I was younger to retain information. I am older now, but hopefully aging gracefully.

My grandfather gardened into his early 90s. My mother lost her physical ability to garden at 88 but not her interest. She took her walker and had a chair carried outside. She directed her grandson where to plant, how to prune and when to enrich the soil. He now has his own home and a fabulous garden. She was fortunate to have that resource, and he learned valuable lessons from her. As I rapidly approach my 70s, I realize I can’t haul the 40-pound bags of top soil the way I once did. Holes get harder to dig, and I ache after a day working in the garden.

Garden a3A great deal has been written about gardening as you age. The titles often say, “Gardening for older people,” “Staying safe in the garden as you age,” “Older adults and green thumbs,” or “Gardening can help seniors.” Washington Post gardening columnist Adrian Higgins wrote, “Gardening as you age: How to go low maintenance without losing beauty.” He asked, “What happens when you reach that point in life when the limbs are too feeble or arthritic for the work?”

There are so many benefits for older people who keep gardening. It’s an enjoyable form of exercise. It encourages use of all motor skills. It maintains strength, reduces stress, encourages an interest in nature and can provide home-grown produce if you grow vegetables.

Garden a2We made adjustments for my mom. Raised beds helped her garden from her wheelchair. Plant boxes were installed around the deck. Her tools were refitted with foam, tape and plastic tubing for a truer grip. It is now easy to find ergonomic tools that are lighter and protect joints during the repetitive motion that occurs while gardening.

This year, I’m reducing my use of annuals and replacing them with perennials. I’m certain in the years to come I will remove the perennials and replace them with shrubs for even less maintenance. I read Sydney Eddison’s book, “Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as you Grow Older.” Eddison is a lifelong gardener. She writes about her experiences and presents tips that are realistic and encouraging. It’s a great read for the Medicare age gardener and for younger gardeners with jobs, kids and little extra time.

Garden a1There are adjustments you can make for easier gardening. If you have the space, raise beds to avoid bending and stooping. Containers provide control of soil, water, exposure and even the plants. This season, I invested in a good garden cart. Each time I use it I’m thankful that wheels were invented. It carries tools, plants, weeds, soil, even my snacks. This year, I added seeds to my garden. I sowed half a pound of zinnias. I have hundreds of seedlings, and I’m anxious to see how the flowers thrive. It was an easy project.

I’m now conscious of safety items that gardeners of all ages should remember. Prevent excessive sun exposure by working in the garden early in the morning or late in the day. Wear a hat and sunscreen. Keep hydrated by drinking water, and take care in the use of power tools.

Garden a5My garden gives me great joy and is not yet a burden. I need to continue to make changes so that I can garden for my lifetime.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener at Green Spring Gardens and a board member of the Friends of Green Spring.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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