Gardening is a pleasure that doesn't have to end when physical limitations occur. Master Gardeners of Sussex County offer modifications that allow people to enjoy and reap the benefits of gardening even when age or an injury get in the way. Often a simple modification can work, and sometimes a completely different approach is necessary."There is an obvious need for adaptive equipment and ideas," said Tracy Wooten, University of Delaware Extension agent.
If the grip is the first to go, several manufacturers now offer a special handle to extend your reach or provide better leverage. Look for curved handles, water spigot handles that increase surface area, and watering sprayer extenders. Universal grabbers are also handy for picking up items without bending, but if you do bend, try to squat instead of hinging at the waist. Or using a kneeler may help.
Often, even for younger gardeners the challenge is not getting down on the ground, but getting back up. Some gardeners employ kneelers with handles that allow you to lift yourself up easier; some kneelers flip over to create a seat when working on bushes. Some seats feature large, all-terrain wheels.
Some industrious members offered DIY hacks, such as using pipe foam to cover handles to create a wider grip. One suggestion for planting seeds while standing up uses a piece of PVC pipe cut to the proper height, with a funnel at the top. Use the bottom to dig the line for seeds, then drop seeds into the funnel to be delivered to the ground. Many manufacturers offer pelleted seeds for easier handling.
The master gardeners also suggest creating wide paths with an even surface to make it safe for using a walker or cane. Balance is important, so using a stable four-leg cane or carrying a long-handle tool can steady a gardener. Always choose sturdy shoes, take time to change positions, and put safety first.
Watering your garden can be therapeutic. Reach distant plants with an extended sprayer. If turning on the faucet is a struggle, use faucet helpers such as the Foxtail Sliding Faucet Handle that fits over the handle and includes a lever for turning it on. Two-way valve splitters can make turning the water on quicker, with a push button or a single-crank handle. You can save time with a soaker hose, or set up a timer to water your garden at a set time.
When the time has come to bring the garden to you, there are raised beds and small, moveable garden boxes. Members suggest finding lightweight containers and filling them with lightweight potting soil. Often you want the look of a large pot but the plants don't need that much room for their roots, so filling the pot with empty plastic bottles or bags of packing peanuts will do the trick. Almost anything can be a garden container; just remember to make a hole in the bottom for drainage, fertilize once a month, and keep them at a convenient level and near a water source.
Raised beds can be built to suit specific needs of the gardener. If you choose knee level, make the edges wide enough to be seated, and the right width to manage reaching across. If you want to stand, make sure the box is at an appropriate height, or if sitting in a chair, there is ample room under for your legs. The master gardeners offer plans for several variable-height beds on their website.
Susan Trone made a box shaped like a small kitchen drawer with a hardware screen bottom and handles on both sides. "I grow lettuce in it; it is easy to move around to catch the sun or shade as needed, and can be presented to someone who is chair bound," she said.
Gardening is meant to be a joy, so if vision is limited, remember the other senses. Plant fragrant flowers, place wind chimes for directional orientation and plant brightly colored flowers in large patches.
In addition to doing a mild stretch before beginning your task for the day, master gardeners want people to remember: it is not a sprint. Slow and steady wins the race. As you age, you might have to rethink the scale of your garden based on how much stamina you have. Work during the time of day when you feel strongest. Regulate your tasks by mixing it up; do a little shoveling, then a little weeding, then prune while seated.
Choose the cool of the day to work and set a timer to remind you to take a break. Remember to hydrate, use sunscreen, and keep your hat on. Several members use a waterproof mailbox in the garden to store items such as a cellphone, a bottle of water, seeds, gloves, anything that needs to be kept nearby, to keep you from running back to your shed. Place a chair in the shade to rest, and enjoy your hard work.
Go to the UD Extension Agency website to find garden smart tips: www.extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/garden-smart.