Gardening 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.
A 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.
We 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.
There 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.
My 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.