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Thursday, March 24,2011

Old age, infirmities don't have to deter gardeners

By Kaely Moore

As winter gives way to warmer weather, gardeners across the city are sprouting up alongside their tulips and daffodils to get a head start on the upcoming growing season.

For many older residents — or those who are physically limited — the laborious tasks involved in gardening can pose a significant problem. Some may consider giving up the hobby altogether rather than deal with the hassle.
Sandy Hollingsworth, acting manager at City of Boulder Senior Services, says she has worked with several clients who have quit doing activities they love because they can no longer work at the peak of their abilities.

Instead of quitting, she says, people can hold onto activities like gardening by modifying their approach and adapting to their capabilities.

“I’ve talked to a couple of older adults, and they said that the biggest thing is to decrease and slow down, but not give up,” Hollingsworth says.

Hollingsworth says that while some older adults have the physical capacity to fully garden, others might need to adjust the amount of space they work with or the amount of labor they do in one session. Container or small-space gardening can be a good alternative for older gardeners, as can xeriscaping and utilizing more perennials.

Angie Andrade, horticulture therapist at the Denver Botanic Gardens, says that raised flower beds can help provide easier access to a garden.

“This is a great way to bring the planting area up to you,” Andrade says. “A raised bed between 23 and 30 inches I have found to be the best and easiest for people who use a wheelchair or someone who wants to garden in a seated position.”

Andrade says that raised beds can be built at any height as long as there is at least 18 inches of soil space. The width of the bed depends on where it is being accessed from, but typically 1 to 3 feet works best.

A variety of tools on the market are also designed to make gardening more manageable, Andrade says. Gardeners should keep an eye out for tools with large grips and long handles that will go easier on arthritic hands.

She says they can also consider hanging baskets that are rigged with a simple pulley system, and seed tape — a strip of paper that can be planted with attached seeds to make dealing with small, hard-to-see-and-handle seeds a bit less problematic.

Laurie Moy, a 68-year-old Boulder gardener, says she sympathizes with people whose gardening abilities have been physically limited. She used to own a garden design business, but started experiencing pain as the job became too labor-intensive.

Moy, who still loves to garden, says that one way to make it less strenuous is to work 15 minutes at a time during the coolest hours of the day.

Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the idea of gardening, she says, but making tasks smaller and tackling the easier projects first can get some momentum going.

Moy insists that it is important to remember that plants have as strong a will to live as humans do, the evidence of which is everywhere. Plants grow out of sidewalk cracks and building walls. Gardeners, therefore, should try not to get too discouraged with their work.

Hollingsworth says gardening is a very rewarding and nourishing activity that promotes exercise and fosters patience. By sticking with it, gardeners should be able to maintain a great deal of their skill.

“I truly believe if you continue to do a hobby like that, without interruption, it helps keep up your ability,” she says.

Those who absolutely love to garden, Moy says, can never and should never be drawn away from it. They will always find a way to actively pursue their interest.

“There’s just no way to keep gardeners from gardening,” Moy says. “They will garden in the space of a deck of cards if they can’t get anything bigger.”

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