Tips for gardening in the golden years

Posted: September 28, 2013

Special to the Winchester Star

Fill your garden beds with desirable plants so there is no room for the weeds. Also some plants can be raised up so as to be easier to reach.
Create plant beds around existing trees and shrubs so as to avoid extra detail work while mowing.
The slope in the front of this house was too steep to mow, so it was planted in Andorra Junipers, a shrub that needs very little fuss or care.

Few activities provide as many benefits to health as gardening.

First of all, there are the healthy vegetables and herbs to be found in garden spaces. Plus, filling the yard with the beauty of nature feeds the soul as well as the tummy.

And don’t forget the exercise aspect, with it being one of the best ways to strength train and burn calories.

But I have a friend who can’t bend over anymore as her new hip doesn’t allow that particular movement. Another friend can’t kneel because his metal knees grind too much and bruise him from the inside. And there is the poor soul with such severe osteoporosis that she risks a broken bone each time she works among her plants. Gone are the days when we suffered from a touch of lumbago.

Now we have carpel tunnel syndrome, COPD, and osteoarthritis. And I swear I have been growing taller over the past few years. Not that I see my height going up, but the ground is definitely harder to reach. Sort of takes the fun out of it all.

So the first thing I did was instigate a new rule. No tool or bag is allowed to hit the ground. I placed various tables, stumps, fence posts and boulders throughout my garden beds so I had convenient spots to lay things within reach. I made sure they worked into the design so they didn’t look out of place.

Wherever possible, I switched my bush vegetables to vine types and put in trellises so they could be picked from a standing position. And I added pots to my fences to accommodate things like beets and lettuce that don’t come in vine types. Again so they could be picked while standing up.

I also tried raised beds. But most of the time, these just hurt my back more from leaning out over the raised space. Same goes for small benches and those little roller carts they sell specifically for bad backs. I find the squatting-while-bent-over position those things promote is even more painful.

So I gave up on that and compromised by making sure my soils were well amended. This made it easier to pull any weeds that managed to grow. And I planted these beds more thickly than in the past.

One of my gardening acquaintances says, “If there is room for a weed, there is room for another plant!” Actually, it’s a really good motto. Without seed-to-soil contact and light, it is very hard for a new weed to sneak in. And, another point while I’m at it, weed often while the bad plants are tiny and easy to nudge out. Don’t put it off until they are huge with roots reaching to China. You deserve a pulled muscle for waiting so long.

I have to admit, I get a small perverse thrill watching my neighbors mow their yard. They have a nice flat space that should take them no time at all to cut. So every Thursday morning, they pull out a zero turn mower, a regular riding mower, a push mower, and a weed trimmer. They mow everything to a two-inch height, and it takes them almost all day to dodge the individual trees and shrubs that are polka dotted all over the space. They are totally wiped out at the end and they dread it each week. But, at least they are getting plenty of exercise in the process.

However, by comparison, I have a lawn space that is about the same size but hilly. I mow every two weeks, and it takes me a bit under two hours. I keep my turf at a four-inch height so it doesn’t grow so fast and my trees and shrubs are incorporated into the plant beds. The bed edges are laid out according to my new riding mower. And whatever I can’t mow is covered with mulch and a new plant bed is born. And I have a wonderful time, singing and enjoying the outdoors while I’m at it!

There are many ways to reduce the pain and agony of gardening. And incorporating even a few of them in your spaces will help. It is my fervent hope that I will drop dead while I am outside working in my garden. If you think like I do, you know there can’t be a better way to go. However, I also do hope I’ll be at least a 100 when it happens.

— Mary Stickley is a master gardener.