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Rachel Adelson

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Think Spring: Advice For Older Gardeners

Posted: 03/30/2013 7:45 am

In my previous blog post, I shared the insights of Shenandoah Kepler on the lifelong beauty of gardening and gardens. Shenandoah, who in her late 60s writes the blog Fleeting Architecture, continues with practical advice on gardening with age -- the timetable, the tools and more.

Why is gardening a year-round enterprise?

Gardening is my passion and, since I retired, it is my life. I know many other gardeners who share my passion and enthusiasm. Thinking about the next growing season is a year-round project. We wait for the seed catalogues that start arriving in January. We start seeds under lights in February. We plant peas and lettuce in March. We plant more seeds that will withstand occasional frosts in April. We put out tomatoes and melon seeds in mid to late May. And so on.

Perennial gardening never ends, either. I keep a notebook with what works (grows well), where and when it is at its peak in flowering, etc. We divide perennials in the early fall, plant divisions, order new plants via mail-order year round and shop nurseries the same. We move stuff that doesn't work to see if they work somewhere else (before we ditch them altogether).

Then there is the constant weeding, mulching, trimming, composting.

We have had to modify the year-round effort since we started going to Florida (from Maryland) for three months each winter. We now go to the nurseries for annual packs for planting, rather than starting our own seeds, as soon as we get back in April. We go into the garden to start weeding as soon as we get back and sometimes have to call in help to get on top of the weeds since our recent winters have been so mild. We mulch as soon as we get back. Down in Florida, we garden all the time we are there.

How have you adapted your own gardens and gardening practices as you have gotten older?

• Hardscaping first: paving paths, widening paths, getting rid of steps
• Hiring out stuff that was keeping us from what we wanted to do in the garden
• Planning for aging -- for example, shifting from perennials to bushes, naturalizing borders to reduce pruning, weeding and general upkeep
• Shifting from high-maintenance to low-maintenance plants, planting and maintenance in general
• Shifting discretionary funds from eating out and taking an occasional cruise to help with yard maintenance

What new things did making those changes open up for you?

• Time to blog about gardening and begin discussions with other suburbanite gardeners (additional socializing)
• Time to keep a better diary about what is working and what is not (organizing, planning, implementing)
• Time to meditate in the gardens and to just enjoy them both

What are your top three recommendations on garden layout for older gardeners?

1. Plan and implement for the future, even just one year in advance, taking notes on what is getting harder to do, less enjoyable to do and what you can do about reducing those things -- not just the garden layout but its maintenance.
2. If just getting around is the issue, bring everything closer to you. I started a huge bowl of herbs on the back stoop outside my kitchen and it was a godsend for cooking and maintenance.
3. As I have mentioned earlier, how to get around your garden and how to garden (raised beds for example) are extremely important. Avoiding mistakes in the first place is a long- and short-term priority (see my blog for two posts on this subject).

What are your recommendations for tools for older gardeners?

There just aren't enough older gardener friendly tools quite yet. There are some wonderful hand diggers, etc. But hand pruners need to be made easier for the arthritic. Ratchet pruners could be made easier to use. I still have to ask my husband to come in with his comparatively greater strength to do what is still light pruning, but the tools are not there for me yet.

Another set of tools are the motorized ones. More and more gasoline-motored tools (too heavy, too hard to start) are becoming easier with electric starts and alternative electric-powered tools, but they still aren't there yet. And don't get me started on the lack of garden vehicles for a gardener. There are tractors, zero-turn mowers and all-terrain vehicles, but none are built low enough to the ground for easy entry and very few can take attached motorized dump-and-carry carts to get around with tools, soil, compost, mulch and plants. It's on my wish list.

Thank you, Shenandoah. Garden-tool manufacturers, take note!

 

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