|Too Old To Garden? Nonsense!|
"Granny, you’re too old to be out there workin’ in that dang garden! When you gonna quit that foolishness anyway?"
Ever heard such a thing? I’ll bet you have. Some well-intentioned young person trying to convince an older person to stop having and working a garden. Should they? I mean, is gardening only for the young and the strong? Let’s consider, shall we?
Most of us have heard time and time again the warnings from physicians about those who retire and "sit down" somewhere. They just "rust out," don’t they? They sure do. It isn’t hard to decide (from a scriptural viewpoint, that is) if man was meant to labor or to lazy-boy recline. By the way, senior citizens are our most sedentary group (they get almost no exercise) and now watch more television than any other age group! Do they need a garden? Hello?
But what about those who can’t bend a lot? Or those with arthritis and bursitis? That’s what "enabled gardening" is all about! The benefits out-weigh the risks about a ton in most cases.
What are those benefits? Do you recall feeling more peaceful after a walk outdoors or in a wooded area? Ever felt like you had more energy after a brief stint spent pulling some weeds in a flowerbed? The seemingly magical benefits you felt are the same ones that can help others with things like stress relief. Gardening with individuals who have disabilities can show surprising results in reducing stress (and also improving motor skills, by the way). Just 20 minutes of weeding or watering produces measureable and visible stress-reduction in many individuals.
Gardening also has some real emotional benefits. Interaction with and care-taking of plants often gives individuals a different sense of their place in life and can often divert thoughts of self and their own negative situation. Gardening stimulates the senses while empowering the gardener with some real creative and controlling opportunities. This pleasure, combined with the socialization gardening often brings, many times creates changes in behavior, emotional expression and feelings of self-esteem. Disabled gardeners often feel a huge change in dependency due to the independent functioning gardening allows.
It is no small wonder that following World Wars I and II veterans hospitals found great success in the treatment of disabled soldiers through garden therapy. We’ve known it for a long time; but it seems too simple to be true! As early as 1699, Leonard Maegar, writing in the "English Gardener," advised his countrymen "to spend their spare time in the garden, either digging, setting out or weeding; there is no better way to preserve your health."
Dr. Benjamin Rush, pioneer psychiatrist and researcher, and signer of our Declaration of Independence, declared even in his time that "digging in the soil has a curative effect on the mentally ill." Dr. Rush also found people who stayed busy with gardening and other endeavors were less likely to need medical treatment.
Gardening is an activity that can be adapted to all sorts of special needs, from raised beds for people in wheelchairs or on walkers (or for those who need to sit and reach rather than stoop and bend), to gardens for the blind that emphasize the other senses. It can be done. Just remember, start small to avoid the discouragement of an overwhelming garden to maintain.
The garden for the developmentally-disabled at the Bill Stewart Center in Moulton is an example of an enabling garden. Built as a project of the Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs division of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, this garden utilizes raised wooden bed areas (either 4' x 8' or 4' x 16') as an area accessible to the clientele of the Center. Their self-esteem and empowerment grows right alongside the plots of vegetables and flowers.
The following are tips for successful enabling gardens:
• Handle sizes can be adjusted by utilizing foam tubes or using commercially made grips or tools. Foam tubes may be purchased from medical supply stores or at plumbing supply centers (as hot water line insulation). Foam hair curlers (medium to jumbo size) may also be used to slip over tool handles for easier grip and use.
• Tools with arm splints can be used to assist with gardening and these may be tax-deductible expenses.
• Pathways for wheelchairs need to be smooth and at least three feet wide. Wheelchair accessible bed areas need to be no more than five feet wide if accessible from all sides, or two and a half feet wide if used from only one side. Height will be determined by the user (approximately 24" if used from a chair) and may be as high as 30" if used for a standing gardener.
• Hanging baskets can create planting areas where none exist and can even be housed "double-decker" style. They can be lowered by ratcheting pulley system or by a long metal pole with a curved top hook.
• Deep boxes, barrels and tubs can be used to make bed areas and normally need to have at least 12" of potting soil/bed depth.
• Water accessibility is a must and needs to be close to the site. The area cannot be muddy (if wheelchair accessible) and needs to have a spigot at 24" to 36" above ground. Hand levers should be used rather than round spigot controls which must be hand-turned.
• Mulch around plants will greatly reduce the need for weeding and watering. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation help to eliminate the need to drag water hoses and are more efficient watering methods.
The following tips on enabled gardening come from the Washington State University Master Gardeners:
• Choose plants that appeal to senses other than sight. For instance, plants with differently textured leaves: soft like lamb’s ears or rough like heliotrope. Scented plants like herbs and fragrant flowers. Plants to listen to when they rustle in the breeze.
• Tie a cord around the handles of small tools to make retrieval easier if they are dropped.
• Use gloves to protect hands and help maintain your grip on tools.
• A large magnifying glass helps to see small plants and seeds.
• Wear an apron or smock with large front pockets to carry seed packets and tools.
• Use a piece of light-weight plastic pipe to help you sow seeds without bending over.
• Carry a whistle. A short blast can alert others if you need help.
• Rig hanging planters with a pulley to lower them for watering.
• Grow vining varieties of peas and beans that can be trained up a trellis to make harvesting easier.
• To limit bending and stooping, use containers or raised beds for planting.
A thoughtfully-placed tool storage shed or cabinet (and possibly just a mailbox mounted on a fencepost or raised bed edge) can be a real "enabling" feature for an enabling garden. Tool pouches that can be hung on a wheelchair or a walker can also be real assets to gardeners, according to Joyce Schillen, author of "The Growing Season." Schillen said those with arthritis, disabilities, injuries or other health problems that can make gardening difficult without some special consideration are ironically . . . the ones who could benefit most from gardening. We couldn’t agree more.
Jerry A. Chenault is with the Urban R.E.A., New & Nontraditional Programs.