Gardening Tips and Tools for Physically Impaired Gardeners

Techniques for participating in the joys of gardening.


| May/June 1984



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Burpee's "Sugar Bush" watermelon thrives in this raised wooden planter in Henry D. Spalding's yard. 

PHOTO: W.E. HONEY/MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

As you pore over garden catalogs and articles, you sometimes get the feeling that cultivating the good earth is an occupation meant only for healthy young adults of unimpaired vigor and physique. Heavy equipment, hard labor, and long hours are implied necessities in ads promoting powerful rotary tillers and 40-foot rows of supremely productive peas and beans. Few commercial garden supply outlets address themselves specifically to the question of physically impaired people, yet these represent a sizable proportion of all active or potential tenders of the soil. Indeed, we now have more senior citizens in our society than at any other time in America's history, and the number is growing every year. Many of these elderly people have been gardeners all their lives; others have turned to gardening as a rewarding activity in their retirement years. At the same time, more and more rehabilitation agencies and doctors are recommending gardening as therapy for the handicapped.

Stiff joints, lost limbs, shortness of breath, and other impairments may come with accidents or with the passage of time, but they need not rob anyone of the joys of cultivating green plants. Quite the contrary! The fresh air, the exercise, the challenge of outwitting marauding bugs and birds, and the excitement over the birth of a new tomato or pepper can mitigate these handicaps.

Whether they come upon us suddenly or gradually, physical impairments affect our functioning and our happiness. Coping devices vary, but most people who deal successfully with impairments follow at least three steps: [1] acknowledging the limitations, [2] analyzing the nature of the handicaps—that is, how they affect the way you do things—and [3] planning how to get around them.

Gardening Tips

On the MOTHER EARTH NEWS botanical tour across the country last summer, we met author-gardener Henry Spalding, who told us some of his ideas and techniques for gardening after a heart attack (his article on that topic appeared in the January 1984 issue of Organic Gardening magazine). Meanwhile, writer Thelma Honey contacted us with numerous methods for simplified gardening that she'd developed to accommodate her difficulties in walking. In addition, calls we made to people who have spent a great deal of time working with handicapped men and women produced several other useful pointers and suggestions. So we have a lot of good ideas to share with you.

Thelma Honey: Lists

One's acknowledgement and analysis of physical limitations doesn't have to be formal, but Thelma Honey found that a written assessment of her situation was very helpful, because it compelled her to face her problems objectively. To begin with, she sat down with a pencil and a sheet of paper that she divided into two long columns. In the first column, entitled "I Know I Can", she listed everything positive she could think of about her present abilities. "Talk", was her first entry: "Bore the bugs to death!" Listing the positive aspects first helped to insure the success of the evaluation by giving her confidence and by underscoring her constructive attitude. In the second column she listed her impairments, striving for honesty without morbidness in both title ("Challenges to Be Overcome") and entries ("No. 1: Legs are weak and wobbly").

Once she'd drawn up her lists, Thelma compared that information with her gardening practices and plot design. She soon discovered that a number of things needed altering. Thelma obviously thrives on the written word, because she next set up a new pair of columns ("Right On!" and "Right Off!"), in which she listed those things that could continue to be done in her customary manner and those that would have to be changed.





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