Gardening is one of the great joys in life. As I age, it is one of the things I want to look forward to until I can no longer get my body out into the yard. I know folks who can't haul soil or chop trees or carry logs, but they continue to love growing their food and flowers and trees, and still love digging in the dirt.
I think gardening keeps the mind alive, gives joy, and nourishes. Some of the physical challenges come from arthritis, slowing down, and less ambition.
Here's some links about gardening as the body ages.
flowerpotman.com various ideas
gardenbeet.com on raised beds
agribility.missouri.edu tips and techniques for the elderly gardener
thedailybeast.com on gardening therapy.
Commenters, please feel free to add comments and links.
All of the photos below are public domain, from commons.wikimedia.org.
As for myself, I like to think I'm a pretty rugged guy. In the past year, I've dug and hauled hauled 200 pound trees to new locations, and built raised beds and filled with manually hauled wheelbarrows of soil and compost. But I already know it wont last, and I tire more easily than I did at 30 or 40. In addition, when healing form cancer surgery this spring, I was glad I had some tasks that could be easily done without hard physical labor.
I may not live that long, but I'd hate to be older and regret not preparing myself. So I keep that in mind. Some of the gardening work involves learning options that I hope will make it easier as I get old. Some day I might write an essay, "When I am an old man, I will..." but meanwhile, here are some thoughts.
I planted dwarf fruit trees. Some are "mini dwarf". A good mail order nursery for those is raintree. Fruit trees are good because the gardener doesn't need to get down to soil level, and can maintain soil with a good mulch of straw or dried grass clippings. Once growing, fruit trees don't need a lot of digging or weeding. The dwarf sizes mean no ladders are needed. There is also espalier, which keeps the trees to a workable size and is amenable to puttering.
I'm working on grape arbor that will be pruned at 3 to 7 feet tall, similar reasons.
I've been building raised beds. The current height is 1 foot. It makes a surprising difference. They may go up to 18 inches later. The walk between the beds is lawn, easy to maintain. I'm not a stickler for pure grass lawn, it's just mowed. Later, they may give way to wood chip walkways, but meanwhile the grass is OK.
The softer soil in the raised beds, not tromped on, means they don't need had laborious digging, so also easier. I may need to install a watering system so I don't have to haul a hose around. Not this year.
Gardening with animal life keeps my mood good. I'll have to think of the next generation hen house, for easy maintenance. Beekeeping is a new hobby for me. By luck, the type of hive I use does not require heavy lifting and is easy to work on in a comfortable position. The apiary garden will be a work in progress, with emphasis on shrubs and trees that provide nectar and pollen, with a lot in a small area, and low maintenance as a goal.
A chicken tractor - enclosed but mobile cage - is a good way to concentrate them in an area to remove grass weeds and bugs. Four hens can clear out a 25 square foot area in a few weeks.
Other plant choices, bush beans may be easier than pole beans. Although pole beans can be picked without bending over. Bush zucchini is easier to maintain than long vining types. Multigraft trees give longer yield time for less maintenance and space, although the faster growing grafts need pruning back to let the slower growing grafts grow.
I am working on container designs that are somewhat light, easier to move - maybe wheels - do not require as frequent watering. Wood is better that way than plastic, but lined with plastic so they don't rot so fast.
So that's a few thoughts. Feel free to comment.
Excellent discussion topic. May I share it with my family & friends on Facebook?
I agree with everything you say! Thanks.
Joan, go ahead and share. I'd be honored. Thinking of you inspired some of this - your ongoing enthusiasm and raised beds.
You are so much more ambitious than I, so many projects. The first landscaping we did when we bought this house was to have raised beds put in the front. They're much deeper than the ones in the photo, with stone walls. I had step stones to step into the beds for work, but they disappeared within a decade, and I eventually gave up trying to keep them above ground and clear. The fine gravel washed out from between the stones, so now the cracks are too big and air dries out the garden too much, especially at the corners, in hot dry weather. I tuck small stones in the biggest cracks, but they wash back out. *sigh* Still, it is easier to weed.
I have so much less energy than I did 2 decades ago, so I rely mostly on perennials now.
Thanks for all of the links.
Ruth, it's a beautiful raised bed! You did a great job!
One day if it needs maintenance, you could retroactively line the sides with plastic. That might help with some of the issues.
It's all a learning process. I feel like everything I do, I could have done better. And next time will try to do so. And then, will feel like I did it wrong again.
I was under the impression that plastic would cause water pressure to build up behind the wall during a deluge and push the stones out.
That would be a mess! Maybe have some drain holes or drain pipe at the bottom?
Some science studies in the benefits of gardening for older adults:
Articles from Science Daily. Gardening helps with Senior's hand strength and self esteem. Seniors who garden eat more vegetables. Community gardens provide social and nutritional benefits - gardeners tend to weigh l... Gardening provides recommended physical activity for Seniors.
A better written article: Healthy Garden / Healthy Gardener. Gardening helps strength, burns calories, helps build bones, helps with joint flexibility and strength, helps improve the diet, and helps with mental and emotional well being.
In my anecdotal experiences, gardening does help me feel more connected to others, in a sometimes lonely world. I share the output, giving neighbors and coworkers eggs, fruit, and vegetables. People like to lean over the fence and give advice. I've shared starts of plants with neighbors. It's a way to connect across lines of belief, experience, generation, and ethnicity.
I'm so impressed with your efforts and ambition! In comparison, I'm a lazy gardener. For example, I no longer prune my fruit trees (up high). Chickens? Bees? No way. Still, I can't sit out in my lawn chair for 5 minutes without seeing something that needs to be done--right away! This gardening business is certainly a labor of love. You should be proud of yourself, Daniel!
Not that ambitious! Some folks drink, or carouse, or smoke leafy stuff. I dig in the dirt.
Digging in dirt works for me too.
Here is another link - seniorgarden blog.
And this article - agingcare.com - looks at making a landscape that embraces the older gardener, as well as help the older gardener do what they want. Summarizing the topics (more detail in the article)
Re-creating the landscape -
-- Aim for low maintenance. Get rid of lawn where possible.
-- Have places to sit in shade..
-- Have raised beds at easy level. This comes up in every reference for the older gardener.
-- Garden vertically. Hang planters on walls or create planters for working at standing or seated level. Trellises, fences can be easier to reach.
-- Create accessible paths.
-- Have an irrigation system that's easy to use.
I edited out details - more in the original article.
"Tend to the Gardener"
-- Encourage sunblock
-- Work when it's nice outside. Stay indoors in the heat or cold. In summer, morning and evening is better.
-- Bring a water bottle. Or in my case, a coffee thermos.
-- Wear sensible apparel - appropriate shoes, hat, gloves. I would add, in heat, light clothes with long sleeves to avoid sunburn or excessive tanning, which dries the skin.
-- Paint tool handles neon colors, or wrap in brightly colored tap. Easier to find.
-- Hard labor is for the young. Hire them or bribe children or grandchildren with treats.
Also, my random thoughts -
It's rare that a task needs to be completed today. It can be spaced over several days.
Animals are great company while gardening. A loyal dog or curious cat can be very welcome.
Gardening isn't just plants. Feeding birds can make the experience more joyous.
Gardening isn't just about self. Growing high-reward plants, like zucchinis and tomatoes, gives something to share, keeping the gardener connected. Starting plants from seeds or cuttings lets the gardener share the joy.A straw mulch is cheap and reduces need for watering and weeding.
Knee guards are helpful. There are neon-colored knee guards that are easy to find.
Cost is always an issue. Starting plants indoors, or overwintering some types, saves money and makes it easier to have extra special varieties and plants.
Stimulate sense of smell, if the gardener can smell. Aim for strongly scented or fragrant leaf plants, mints, culinary herbs like basil, thyme, oregano, lavender. Some folks don't like the smell of tomato or marigold leaves, but for me they bring back my childhood garden experiences, and I like smelling them.