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.
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.
Daniel, thank you for this article list of gardening for seniors. I especially like your “random thoughts”.
I will add one that was hard for me to do. I usually work until the job is done. My new normal is
~ when my back starts to hurt, I find a comfortable chair and some reading or hand work that I can do. I was very carefully trained, as I suppose many of this group were, to not idle away time; the imperative was to work morning until night.
Absolutely enjoyed reading this. So informative. I identify very well with your endeavors. I live in a desert, with my own well, so have many obstacles (beyond the fact am 64 lol). How refreshing to learn of others enriching the environment.
I resorted, this last year, to a huge indoor greenhouse, nourished by a nearby pond I made, also this year, given our drought situation here. Am anxious to see how it works out through the winters, which, typically in New Mexico are mild.
Thanks for sharing.
Daniel, would geese or ducks take care of the slugs?
I'd love to see a bit of your garden, Dorothy. Can you put up a picture?
Dorothy, you have a special story to tell and I enjoy every bit of your writings. You have different challenges than I, and I can learn from you! You also have opportunities to grow things that I cannot, and I learn from you.
Thank you for sharing!