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Gardening with Older Parents and the Elderly

Like many of you, my love of things green and growing was instilled by my parents. My mom loved having a vegetable garden and my dad loved trees.  Now that dad is gone and my mom blew past 80 a year ago, my role has changed.  I plant trees. I plant trees that my dad would love.  But I also do a little vegetable gardening. Mom was always the vegetable gardener. She had gardens of 1/2 an acre until recently. But when dad got sick, the garden was no longer a priority.  In retirement years, people often have more time and gardening offers a means of staying active between visits from grandchildren.  But gardening is also therapeutic and an excellent way of providing a project that offers rewards of fresh vegetables or beautiful flowers, at any age gardening rewards us.

It has been years since mom could start her tiller by herself. The same may be true for many older gardeners. There is a small piece of property behind my parents’ house that has been used off and on for gardening. Several years ago my sister bought mom one of those small two cycle tillers advertised on TV. It lasted a year.  So last year there was no garden. Mom needed a tiller she could use without having to start up a gas engine.  Husqvarna made such a machine, the TB-1000 36 volt cordless tiller. It was perfect for the job.  The charge lasts about 40 minutes, plenty of time to till her small space. All I have to do is remove the battery after use and recharge it and she is set to till again.  If you have a gardener with limited physical capabilities, the TB-1000 from Husqvarna is a solution you should look at.

Another issue that should be addressed is the height of the planting area. If possible, elevating the seed bed is a great benefit not only for older gardeners but for anyone who struggles with kneeling and getting up.  For our smaller areas, we raised our beds by using the M-Brace product. M-Brace makes building raised beds a task anyone can handle. By merely placing the braces at each of the four corners and inserting dimensional lumber, 2 by 4s or 2x6s, a raised bed is created.  We also use raised beds to help control weeds, aid in germination and provide a greater depth of non compacted soil.  Our area has heavy clay soil, and the raised beds aid in drainage. Clay does bad things when it gets wet, none of which aid plants. Raising the plants allow their roots to breathe and even break apart the clay soil underneath the areas, allowing earthworms to do their thing and regenerate the clay into usable soil.

A variety of companies make pads for kneeling gardeners. I have used these, but I always forget them when I go outside to garden.  I plan on building some small step stools that can be used for sitting while gardening in the raised bed areas.  A few other items that are needed can be found at your local Lowe’s store, hardware or nursery.  Gloves protect hands from excessive drying, sunburn and cuts while gardening. Comfortable gloves that allow the gardener to still be able to grasp weeds and hand tools are the best selection.  A set of tools that are sized correctly will allow older gardeners to take care of their space.  Large shovels and hoes may place too much strain on older joints, so a set of hand tools might be better. That being said, my 81 year old mom can run circles around much younger gardeners with her hoe. In fact, most of her hoes don’t last a full season. But I also realize she is not the typical 81 year-old grandmother.

One of the areas often overlooked is proper clothing. Even though this applies to all ages, it is especially critical for older people working outside, wear proper clothing that protects from the sun and other elements(mosquitoes and ticks here).  I still smile when I see photos of my dad wearing a floppy hat. Dad was Irish and fair skinned, but loved being outside and had the skin cancers to show for the years of not wearing long sleeves and hats.  I have never seen my mom wear any kind of hat outside of a golf course, but she is olive skinned and has Cherokee bloodlines also. She just gets darker.  Regardless, proper clothing should be worn. Loose fitting cool clothing is readily available, much of it is even stylish.

At the end of the day, gardening binds my children closer to me and their Nana. It gives each of us common ground, a common goal and provides us a time to talk while we dig, weed and water.  We don’t have the large gardens anymore.  I am thankful for that. Gardens meant to provide ample sustenance in quantity and variety are too time consuming for us now.  A few tomato plants, some herbs and few other vegetables meet our needs. The endless rows of peas, okra, squash and corn of my youth are gone, but so is watering plants for several hours each week with water hauled from the adjoining creek.  What we have now is manageable. My recommendation is too not become to ambitious when starting off and plant varieties that are known to perform well in your local environments.  Look upon gardening with our elders as a way too spend quality time and don’t be surprised if you learn more from them than you can offer in return.

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