Enjoy Gardening at Any Age

English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll wrote, "The love of gardening is a seed once sown never dies . . ."

That first delicious spring day is a temptress, luring all avid gardeners out of their winter doldrums and calling them out to play. It’s the smell of fresh soil and those little green sprouts popping up everywhere that makes gardeners come back for more each spring. With eyes bright, a spring to their step and trowel in hand, they head out for a weekend of joy in the dirt. By Monday morning the stiffness sets in, aches and pains in long forgotten muscles remind them that they are not as fit as they used to be.

As the baby boomer generation grows into their middle years, they have the recreational time, income and desire to embrace gardening as one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America. At the same time, they are starting to experience arthritis, carpal tunnel, backaches, and other infirmities that come with aging.

Horticulturalist, Karen York, author of “The Holistic Garden, Creating Spaces for Health and Healing,” recognizes the emotional and healing aspects of gardening, as an escape from day-to-day stress, coping with depression, dealing with grief. She also cites the physical benefits, “Even relatively light work such as weeding, trimming or raking burns about 300 calories an hour. Digging, hauling mulch and heavier work not only burns calories but also improves muscle tone and bone strength.”

Garden Forever is a website that focuses on the joys and therapeutic advantages of gardening and encourages the fulfillment of the desire to garden forever. The aim is to garden smarter so people can garden longer.

Garden tool manufacturers are finally starting to recognize the needs of middle aged gardening enthusiasts. Materials such as fiberglass added to nylon, create tools that are extremely strong but also deceptively light, making them particularly useful to those with limited arm and hand strength. Kneepads with gel inside make a soft cushion around knees that are wearing down over the years.

Beverley Mitchell, owner of Gardenscape Tools, and a card carrying member of the baby boomer generation, found some of the tasks involved in gardening, including kneeling, bending and lifting were getting more and more difficult to do. In the late ‘90s she started looking for ergonomic tools at the horticulture trade shows she attends each year to source out new products. The retailer now offers an extensive line of gardening products called “enabling tools.”

Companies approach Gardenscape Tools with new inventions that help make gardening easier. Recently the Louisville Slugger company sent a sample pair of new gardening gloves. Designed by a renowned hand surgeon, the gloves have anatomic relief pads to help reduce vibration, callouses, blisters, and hand fatigue. Ms. Mitchell, who had injured her wrist in the spring, wore the gloves all last summer in her own garden and loved the comfort, support and fit. She decided to put the Bionic Garden Gloves on the cover of Gardenscape’s 2004 catalogue.

Horticulturalists, therapists, manufacturers, and retailers are working together to produce information, resources and tools to allow gardeners to continue doing what they love to do -- garden.

If you have limited strength, trouble getting around the garden or need to pace yourself, try some of these tips to make the work easier.

Plants -- Choose plants carefully to eliminate work. Use easy-to-care-for perennials that don’t need constant division or watering; shrubs for borders rather than hedges that need shaping and trimming; vines that grow up and eliminate the need to garden on the ground; ground cover perennials to replace high maintenance lawns.

Planters -- Garden in raised beds and containers that require less bending and kneeling and can be maintained from a sitting or standing position. Hanging baskets require little weeding and maintenance but use a pulley system to make the daily watering easier.

Exercise -- Stretch before you start and don’t overdo any particular activity. Try to do a variety of tasks each time rather than a whole day of one activity that is particularly hard on underused muscles.

Tools -- Look for lightweight tools that have ergonomic grips to ease hand and arm fatigue. If knees and back are problems, choose a tool with a telescoping handle so that the tool does the reaching for you. Try pruners with rotating handles that reduce stress and strain on the hand and provide more cutting power with less effort.

Protective devises -- Use braces for wrists and back and pads for sore knees. Protect hands by wearing gloves and adding foam padding to the handles of tools.

Plan Ahead -- Put tools, labels, seeds, etc. in a bucket to avoid running back and forth to the tool shed. Have a hose bid installed half way down the garden so you don’t have to carry the hose out each time. Place benches and resting spots strategically throughout the garden. They allow you the time to pause, rest and enjoy the rewards of your work.

Use Nature -- Provide lots of organic matter to the soil and the worms will do the digging. Provide bird feeders and grow plants that encourage birds into the garden to control pests. Mulch as often as possible to keep plants healthy and weeds away.

Get help -- Hire a student to do the heavy digging and lifting. It will save you for the less physical jobs, will help out a young person and maybe even start that seed of gardening flourishing in the next generation.

For more information, contact Gardenscape Tools at www.gardenscape.ca online; 2010A Queen St. E., Toronto, ON, M4L 1J3 toll free (888) 472-3266 or visit Garden Forever at www.gardenforever.com.

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