Long Life Gardening
Gardening into the 90's, my 90's and yours!!!
I am facing 60 this fall, so that gives me 30+ more years to garden: long enough to see a tree get really big! My Linden tree along the driveway is 23 years old and at least 30 feet tall and I clearly remember planting it in 1990 with a 2 inch “stem” diameter and a wispy tip as tall as me…5 foot plus change as they say. A few years ago, my husband commented…hmmm…I’m not sure that is the dwarf variety after all! I doubt I could circle its girth with my arms: amazing!
We just planted a new orchard area and I look ahead to new crab apples and pears. So in long term gardening, we need to think like a tree. Slow and steady and don’t bend to the ground so much! When I first started researching “Gardening with Seniors”; it was all about the tools and aids we needed to buy. That was depressing. It said nothing about the joy of slowing down…the satisfaction of sitting on all those benches strategically placed in shady spots, watching the beauty unfold as the season does or enjoying the visitors on the wing that you don’t have to rush and make tea for.
My first suggestion is to not necessarily garden in your yard!
Volunteer: Day gardeners are welcomed at Government House, Abakazi gardens, Swan Lake and HCP aka Glendale gardens to name a few. Choose by your interests…You become a drop-in gardener and yes, certainly dedicated, possibly fair weathered and with the reassurance, someone else will keep the ball rolling if you are not there. They even provide the tools and someone makes tea for you! This also counts as a social outing, with a mission including a collective a sense of accomplishment and pride. Do share your knowledge, your favourite plants too~ they will live on as someone else’s favourite too.
The second suggestion is to simplify what gardens you have; less intensive annuals, unfussy perennials and reliable shrubbery with mulching to cut down on weeding. Pristine bare soil beds under say, your Roses are more work and just an open invitation for weeds. Classic Cottage style borders were forked over yearly; staked, divided, replanted every 3 or 4 years for that “effortless” fluffy look. Your border can still be stunning with less and allows a mature garden style. Create specialized gardening spots like vegetable or flower boxbeds or patio pots on wheels to play with. If you can afford it; hire a “Tidy Bette” to do the chores that are your least favourite or most taxing. Do hire “men and machines” for ladders and chainsaw work~ you are also supporting the next generation of gardeners. Spend your time baking cookies for the arborist instead of up that tree yourself!
Water wise: Set up shorter hoses in handy spots~ less tangling and dragging around. Use a small less-heavy-when-full watering can or set self-watering bottles by your thirstiest plants by using litre plastic milk bottles that you fill/cap with holes punched in the bottom and sit next to say, that thirsty tomato plant. Invest in an automatic watering system for larger yards; generally it is only needed June to the end of September.
Tool wise: Tape a spongy rubber sleeve on your favourite tool handles, secure with electrical tape. And spray paint your hand tools perhaps a bright yellow. Oil moving parts on your tools, and oil your hands at the same time: and yes, an Italian olive oil is just fine! I planted an old mail box to keep my hand tools “out there”. Use a lighter plastic leaf rake instead of a metal one and don’t pick up the leaves: rake them into your borders or cover your veggie patch in fall. Do use a cushy kneeling pad, there are even ones that have arms to push up on, turn it over and it doubles as a perch. Some sitting “stools” even have wheels to scoot along but watch they don’t run away from you & you land on your bottom! A sturdy little stool may be the best choice to bring you closer to the ground and ease so much bending from standing. Put the compost bucket or weed container on wheels instead! Let a wheel barrow carry all your “tools”; include a cell phone, a hat and bottle of water. Large wheeled carts are quite effortless to use or perhaps a classic little red wagon for smaller access areas. Let the tool choices work with you.
Paths: These need to be level and bare of obstacles to avoid falls; perhaps packed with ¾ inch screening…a type of fine gravel used on wheelchair paths. Perhaps think about paving heavily travelled paths to connect to your patio? Make any terracing wide, shallow steps with a hand rail. All these “hardscaping” features can be part of the flow of your garden and allow you to garden longer in your own bit of paradise.
Patios: Decks and patios are a multi function area; remember to grow up as well as out. Put hanging baskets on pulleys to lower for easy watering. Try double potting by planting in a plastic pot to fit inside your heavy ceramic ones for the ease to pull apart or switch plantings. Think outside the traditional: instead of clematis on a trellis~ plant peas and beans. A seeding trick is to drop-plant big seeds; like beans, using a one inch diameter/four foot length of PVC piping, and then use a long handled tool to cover and press the seeds “down there”. Build a veggie box bed with double high board sides. For tiny vegetable seeds like carrots; some companies offer seed tapes to avoid waste and fuss thinning. Plant Tomatoes in pots, instead of geraniums and petunias or make a mixed salad planting with lettuce and annual herbs like Basil. Try a Tea herb garden instead of the traditional Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Change your project each season…if this isn’t the time to try new things: when is? Age gives you bravery over failures. Can you imagine my compost pile from death in the garden? Yet it is the successes I remember, the rest are buried: excuse the pun!
Move your gardening indoors and invest in a light system for success. Win the lottery and attach a functioning sunroom or small greenhouse to keep you and your plants sunny. My father’s pride was to have just picked Lettuce and Tomatoes for Christmas! Take up flower arranging…or orchids and join those gardening clubs. It is still real gardening!
Take good care of yourself as your own Head gardener: Comfort becomes number one; wear good support footwear and light clothing, with a hat. Stick a jacket in the wheelbarrow for quick weather changes. Promptly attend to cuts, scrapes and insect bites, tucking a first aid kit just inside an easy accessed back door. Tackle big jobs in small bites. Vary the day’s activities. You know by now, any job simply waits for your return…
Remember you are gardening as an enjoyment, a choice. This is not about “one-up-man-ship” in the neighbourhood. Hang over the neighbour’s fence to smell his Roses: tell him how lovely they are ~ you may go home with a bouquet, or better yet a cutting!
Overall, the bonus benefits of gardening in the golden years are; better sleep and appetite, eye-hand co-ordination, problem solving, strength, mobility, flexibility…oh, forget this list! For me it is the sheer wonder and magic~ food for the soul!
Wish I could bottle that youth elixir passion for us all!
PS A quote I found: “Gardening adds years to your life and Life to your years” …. unknown. So true!
Originally published in the April 2013 edition of the Metchosin Muse