Norwich — For many people, gardening is a lifelong hobby, one that inspires a passion that grows with the years.
But for some gardeners, the years sometimes aren’t so kind to aging bodies. By modifying their gardens — and their gardening methods — those with green thumbs can continue to do what they love. Hanover Garden Club members Susan Edwards, of Hanover, and Liz Knox, of Grantham and Wales, United Kingdom, will discuss that and more during their upcoming talk, “Gardening With Expertise and Ease: Growing Older With Your Garden,” at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich.
“I’ve always had to garden with some limitations,” said Edwards, 76. “But gardening has been my thing. It doesn’t matter how creaky and groany my knee was, I’d always garden.”
Because of her bad knee, Edwards cannot kneel when she gardens. Instead, she squats. “If I need to be down for a while I’ll just sit on the ground,” she said. Edwards also will use a stool, “but I don’t like to lean on that because it puts a lot of pressure on the hips.”
The trick is learning what is comfortable and works for you.
“Older people need to work within their limitations,” Edwards said. “You can’t do something that you can’t do. So you do things that you can do.”
Knox has also dealt with knee and hip issues. “There’s no question that, as you get older, getting up and down from the ground gets harder,” she said.
Edwards’ vegetable beds are raised about 8 inches off the ground and get a little higher every year as she adds compost to them.
“My exercise is the garden, and it involves all parts of my body,” said Edwards, a retired physical therapist. “Just working in the garden all day, I can get my 10,000 steps with no problem” Raking, for example, can build up abdominal muscles. Hands get stronger through clipping. “Truly, you can use just about every muscle in your body,” Edwards said.
What you use to garden with can help as well.
“The kind of tools that you have makes an enormous difference,” Knox said. Make sure tools that are supposed to be sharp are sharp, as they will put less strain on your body. “The tool has to match the job,” Edwards said.
Tools also include wheelbarrows and garden carts. Edwards suggests finding ones that are a comfortable height. “If I have to lift and then turn … it just is more than I want to do,” she said. “It’s not that I can’t do it; I can’t do it for any length of time.”
One step both Edwards and Knox have taken in their respective gardens is to make them more self-sustaining. “Our talk is geared toward not so much downsizing the garden,” Edwards said. “We’re trying to cut down on the work involved.” This means changing the plants and flowers that populate it. “First thing that we’ve both been doing has been fewer and fewer annuals and more perennials and shrubs,” said Knox, who splits her time between Grantham and Wales, where her primary garden is. Shrubs cover more ground than flowers and require less maintenance.
“They’re in the ground and they stay there,” Knox, 74, said. “Apart from keeping them reasonably free from weeds, you don’t have to do a huge amount to them.”
Shrubs aren’t limited to greenery. In Edwards’ garden they sport purple, gray and even chartreuse leaves.
“Even when there are not flowers, the garden isn’t just a gray blob,” Edwards said.
Another option for gardeners whose mobility is limited is container gardening. “That obviously has huge advantages,” Knox said. “A container can be put at the right level for you to get at.”
The important thing is to find ways to continue doing what you enjoy.
“I think if all I could do is garden in barrels or containers, that’s what I would do,” Edwards said. “I just love to be out there with my hands in the dirt. ”
Editor’s note: For more information about the talk, visit hanovergardenclub.org or call 802-649-2200. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.
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