Garden Styles

Garden Styles

As we get older, gardening becomes more of a chore. Knees hurt, so kneeling in the dirt can be painful even with knee pads. Hands hurt, too, and anti-arthritis gloves are often too pricey to wear while digging in the dirt or pulling weeds. Finally, while a hat protects (sometimes bald) heads from the sun, there is nothing oldsters can wear that turns down body temperature except less clothing. Unfortunately, 70-year-old bodies were never meant to be on display.

There are some gardens, though, that address these problems. One is a vertical garden, with pots, jars or other containers arranged in a frame that stands on end – imagine being able to lie down and garden. Some vertical gardens merely feature soil in a frame with braces at intervals. However the vertical garden is constructed, if it is placed about one foot off the ground older people will easily be able to access and tend the rows. Some fancy vertical gardens even feature built-in watering systems.

Raised bed garden

Raised bed garden

Second to vertical gardens in ease-of-use for the middle-aged and elderly are raised gardens. These consist of soil placed inside frames which sit on the grass or bare dirt. Made of concrete, decorative stone, railroad ties or some weatherproof lumber like redwood, they stand from 1 to 2.5 feet high, providing a relatively comfortable surface for sitting (rather than kneeling) while gardening. Grouping them together also makes it easier to water them. To ensure that your raised garden vegetables and flowers get chlorine-free water, install a Gard’n Gro Filter nearby, but if your city’s tap water (or your well water) is less than top quality, don’t drink from the filter. Older gardeners may also benefit from a soaker hose – made from 100-percent recycled materials so you can feel “green” while you cultivate your greens. Simply run the perforated hose through metal pipes to connect one raised bed to another; the water spraying inside will naturally fall back into the raised beds. The only drawback to this easy-watering system is that you can only enter and exit your raised garden from one end of the yard. If your beds run alongside a fence, it’s really no drawback at all.

To make your garden more accessible at dawn and dusk – the times when the air is coolest (and sunlight weakest) in July and August – install solar lamp posts. These reproductions of Victorian gaslights use super-bright LED bulbs and stand 7feet 8 inches tall, rescuing even the most ordinary garden from dullness. Or you could light with solar lights along walks and around the patio for electricity-free visibility after dark – the time when so many aging pairs of eyes and bifocal eyeglasses are tricked into thinking obstacles are farther away than they really are.

And of course the fervent gardeners among you will recycle and compost, but you may not need (and perhaps can no longer operate) the biggest (and heaviest) composter on the market anymore. Choose instead to install one or more kitchen waste compost bins for leftover food, and bag your leaves and yard waste in self-composting bags.

If you live in an apartment or condo, or assisted-living facility, your diet could still benefit from what are called “postage stamp” gardens. This art of raising lots of food in very small spaces is not only healthy for the body, but can be therapeutic for the mind, according to a 1997 study at the University of Michigan. In fact, gardening in any size garden – or even tending individual potted plants – is known for generating good feelings and staving off feelings of uselessness or hopelessness. It has also been credited for slowing the onset of premature senility.

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