Think Spring! Ageless Gardening (Part 1)

If you love to garden, the changes of aging don't have to get in your way. Now that spring is starting to show its pretty head, it's a good time to hear from Shenandoah Kepler, a gardener with a blog called Fleeting Architecture. Now in her late 60s, she offers lyrical observations and solid practical advice for the older gardener. In this first of two posts on this subject, Shendandoah has a lot to share.

Why she thinks gardening is a great hobby for older people:

• Gardening provides exercise -- digging and weeding especially.
• Gardening helps maintain flexibility and mobility, through walking, reaching, bending.
• Gardening improves endurance and strength.
• Gardening is a great stress reliever and promotes relaxation.
• Gardeners can give away produce or flowers, feeling useful and promoting social interaction.
• Gardening can provide connection with nature and perhaps with the gardener's past.
• It is hard to argue against the beauty of a garden in its beginning, its progress, and even its end. It is a visual progression of time condensed into the passage of a year; it is sobering and soothing at the same time!

Why she decided to write about gardening in the context of aging at home:

I had to start using a cane about 10 years ago. That did not prevent occasional falls inside and outside the house. So I switched to a rollator (a walker on wheels) about five years ago. That greatly reduced the falls but made it hard to get about the garden without rethinking how to get around outside. So I went to the Internet for help and found all sorts of accommodations being made for accessibility inside the home, but little on accessibility in the garden.

I got to thinking that most of my gardening contemporaries live in the suburbs, and we all discuss what we want to do when we retire. Most of us want to age in place and those of us who are garden enthusiasts love our suburban sprawls. So I thought it would be fun to chronicle my efforts to make my garden more accessible, and discuss with others what works and doesn't.

What gets harder or different about it as we get older --physically? (Let's start with arthritis!)

Yes, arthritis can be a deterrent to what we want to do, but there are some ergonomic hand tools that can help immensely, and health professionals agree that it is better to keep moving with arthritis rather than to end activities that hurt a little.

For me, just getting around in the garden had to be addressed -- the width of paths to accommodate my rollator, the surface of the paths, etc. For others it might be bending and kneeling (raised garden beds are a good solution for this).

Strength is generally what begins to go, so we have to find ways to cut back what has to be done that takes a lot of strength or bring in help to do those things that require more strength than we have. Mulching used to be a chore I could manage on my own. With wheelbarrows, we would haul the mulch out and apply it to each planting bed. Now we bring in a landscaping company to do this. When we realized it was taking about three months to do the mulching and no other gardening was getting done, it was time to hire it out.

How do sensory changes (vision, smell, touch especially) make gardening harder or different?

Vision can be a problem in the garden -- it is easier to trip over a hose or brush into a thorny bush before you see them. I am careful to garden with gloves always, so touch is not so much a problem.

However, if you consider the issue from the standpoint of enjoyment, it is easy to adapt to sensory changes as we age by specifically planting thyme, for example, where it can be walked on and the scent released, planting knock-your-socks-off colors that we like anywhere in the garden, and planting fuzzy stuff close to where you can sit and pet it. That's ideally what we should be doing for any age, by any age.

Thank you, Shenandoah, from an author who lacks green thumbs. Next post: Sage advice for the older gardener!