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Garden design for those with limitations

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Editor’s note: Don’t let physical limitations stop your gardening. Welcome to our three-week series on updating your garden to help those with limitations keep active. We’ll cover design, containers and ways to improve mobility over the next three weeks.

By Lucia Haddad

OSU Extension master gardener volunteer

“But though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.”

– Thomas Jefferson 1811

Gardening offers many benefits for the mind, spirit and body – as well as sore backs, stiff hands and aching muscles and joints! While physical changes might challenge those of us who garden, we can make changes that allow us to keep gardening. A study at Kansas State University found that gardening was a predictor for leading a physically active lifestyle and high life satisfaction for older adults. Adapt and modify, but don’t give up! The coming winter months are an excellent time to think through which tasks of gardening were the most difficult over the last season.

For some gardeners it may be muscle weakness, fatigue or joint pain; for others perhaps limited vision or a reduced sense of smell. What parts of gardening caused the most discomfort, or just didn’t get finished because they were too hard?

Now is the time to reconsider the garden design and layout to tackle those challenges before the next season. By adapting the garden to the gardener, we can keep the joy and still garden safely.

Evaluate the location and size. Does the garden need to be closer to the house for better accessibility and fewer steps? Perhaps it is time to make the garden smaller to cut down on the work required to plant and maintain it.

Is getting water to the garden a problem? Dragging hoses back and forth can be an energy drain. Consider putting the garden closer to a water source, or install drip hoses for irrigation. How difficult is it to get tools and equipment to the garden? Is there a convenient place to store garden tools so they are within easy reach and minimize steps? For small tools, one creative suggestion is to install a mailbox near the garden to store hand tools at the garden site. Wearing a tool belt or apron can minimize trips back and forth to gather tools.

Store potting soil and soil amendments in wheeled plastic trash containers or on a child’s wagon for ease in moving. If fatigue or muscle weakness are concerns, be sure to create several small sitting areas for resting, preferably in the shade.

Improve the garden paths. Above all, the garden needs to be a safe place. Look critically at the paths and walkways to be sure obstacles are eliminated. For information on gardening for all ages, check out: