Location: Paul Smiths College VIC
Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of knowing several devoted gardeners who, limited only by their imagination and resourcefulness, have crafted and tended remarkable gardens for years. They remain a constant source of inspiration. I’ve also worked with a number of dedicated direct care providers who have made gardening a part of the lives of many elderly, disabled, disadvantaged, and/or special needs members of our community. Many have supported their clients and their friends in experiencing the satisfaction, serenity, and self-realization of gardening; in some instances, for the first time in their lives.
As we grow older, a good number of us experience decreasing physical stamina and/or the development of some other limitation in our physical abilities, forcing even the most avid gardeners to reduce the amount of gardening that they undertake. We learn to slow down, but that doesn’t mean that we have to give up gardening. The key to gardening with a disability lies in eliminating the physical boundaries that would otherwise make gardening burdensome or impossible. Achieving this often necessitates modifying basic garden structures to make them more accessible, which is best accomplished by bringing the soil to a comfortable, workable height through the use of containers, hanging baskets, raised beds, planter tables, and trellises. Choosing plants that you, the gardener, enjoy growing and eating, but that don’t require a tremendous amount of upkeep, should be a consideration, as well. Container gardening offers endless opportunities. Container gardens can be readily placed at appropriate heights in suitable locations. They are easily moved from one place to another and can even be positioned on wheeled stands or decorative carts. They are perfect for backyards, small patios, decks, or balconies. What’s more, container gardens are easily taken indoors, allowing committed gardeners to continue enjoying their hobby, even long after the growing season ends. Hanging baskets need not be inaccessible to persons with limited mobility or strength, either. The addition of a simple pulley system will allow gardeners, even those dependent upon wheelchairs and walkers, to raise and lower hanging baskets for easy watering and maintenance.
For individuals who are unable to work outside, window boxes offer an excellent container gardening alternative. Gardeners most often plant directly into soil in planter boxes, but a better option might be to plant in pots and place those pots into the boxes. The reason, once again, is that plants in pots can be easily moved, removed, or brought inside when the cold weather arrives. Trellises, or vertical wall gardens, are an often overlooked accessibility option. They can utilize existing walls and fences, or arbors and trellises constructed from wood, PVC pipe, molded plastic, brass and other metals, wire, or rope, which can be erected almost anywhere. They are easily adapted to different heights, depending upon need, and are excellent places to grow a wide variety of fruit, vegetable and flower plants. It’s been my experience, however, that raised bed gardens are the preferred, and often the best option.
Raised beds offer gardeners with physical limitations the opportunity to have aesthetically pleasing, easily accessible, highly productive garden plots. And they can be designed and developed to meet the specific needs and desires of any gardener. A raised bed can be constructed with seating built into the walls, at heights that allow the gardener to sit on the walls while gardening, or as planter tables, with beds built completely above ground, to provide legroom for gardeners who have to sit in wheelchairs while tending their plants. Caption: Wide aisles and specially designed raised beds are among the accessibility features of the ‘The Unlimited Garden’ in Saratoga; an enabling garden staffed by horticultural therapists and supported by Master Gardener volunteers.
A trickle irrigation system can take the worry and the hardship out of watering. These easily constructed systems can be inexpensively added to any raised bed garden. They conserve water and are effortlessly operated by simply opening a valve, flipping a switch, or setting a timer. For sensory enjoyment, water fountains and waterfalls can be added or designed into the structure itself. And raised bed water gardens that bring plants within easy reach are another stimulating possibility. By becoming familiar with these and other alternative gardening methods, gardeners with limitations can avoid unnecessary stress and prevent injury. By using ergonomic, adaptive, and enabling garden tools, they can reduce strain and minimize discomfort. While millions of aging gardeners live with some sort of physical disability, gardening remains perhaps the single most practiced leisure activity enjoyed by people age 55 or older. Many continue to garden in spite of arthritis, an accident, a back injury, or an aggressive health condition. They adhere to a few basic techniques and enjoy a better quality of life. They look forward to the harvest and they continue to reap the health benefits that only gardening can bring. They are proof positive that there is no reason to give up the pleasures of a favorite pastime just because a disability has come into the picture.
Franklin County Cornell Cooperative Extension will host a lecture on enabling gardening at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 7, in the theater of the Paul Smiths College VIC Interpretive Building.
Paul Smith's College VIC
8023 State Route 30
Paul Smiths, New York 12970
Last updated May 5, 2016