Ask gardeners in their golden years why they still garden, and you’ll probably receive a variety of answers.
"I love it, and it keeps me going."
"It gives me something to get up for each day."
"My garden is my pride and joy; it’s been with me for many years, and I intend to give it loving and tender care as long as I can."
"My garden warms my heart. It gives me pleasure and serenity"
"You’re never too old to garden. Gardening has added years to my life."
Those are just a few remarks you might hear from these active seniors, these dedicated gardeners. But some of them are also quick to add, "I can’t do as much as I used to do. I’ve had to slow down, but I’m not giving up."
Gardening is a healthy, stimulating physical activity that, with some consideration for ways to lessen the load, to continue gardening with a little less effort than we put forth in our earlier years, can be enjoyed on into our eighties and nineties. Here are a few suggestions and ideas to help you keep enjoying the fun of gardening as a senior gardener.
Benefits of Gardening in our Senior Years
Let’s first look at the benefits of gardening, the reasons why you should keep on, keeping on.
• It is a most enjoyable form of exercise that can increase levels of physical activity and help to keep you mobile and flexible.
• It continues to improve our endurance and strength.
• It can help to prevent diseases like osteoporosis.
• Reduces stress and promotes relaxation.
• Provides a sense of a job well done, an accomplishment.
• Provides a background for enjoying nature and the outdoors.
• Gives nourishment to our souls as well as our stomachs (as in edible gardens).
Customizing Your Garden for Your Senior Years
The garden you tended in the past may prove to be too daunting today. You may want to rethink your garden space and plan for a smaller, more selective garden. How much time do you want to devote to caring for your garden? How much physical exertion can you do without risking the pleasure of gardening? If you’re creating an edible garden, forget about the neighbors and grow only those plants that provide you with food you really like and grow just enough for you. Forget those extra vegetables that will need to be canned or frozen.
Consider gardening in raised beds or containers. A sunlit porch or an open deck makes a great "garden plot," with rows of deep containers that are easy to weed, water and care for.
There’s a new word in the gardening vocabulary; it’s ergonomics, which is derived from the Greek words ergon (work) and nomos (study of work). Thus, ratchet action pruners, adjustable rakes that offer back relief, garden kneeler seats and lightweight carts can be purchased at garden centers or ordered on the internet. These newly designed tools offer much-needed assistance in performing gardening chores.
Keeping Safe While Gardening
Here are a few suggestions for keeping safe and accident free in the garden:
• Warm up by walking and stretching a bit before beginning to garden.
• Prevent sun exposure by working in the garden early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
• Wear a hat and sunscreen.
• Have water or juice available to quench thirst and stay hydrated.
• Rest often; take small breaks to sit in the shade.
• Use power tools with caution
• Make sure your garden paths are free of obstructions and that they are flat and not slippery.
• Tend to cuts or insect bites immediately.
• Don’t touch your eyes or face after handling garden soil; wash your hands as soon as possible.
Some Final Words of Special Consideration
Some physical, mental and age-related conditions should be considered when older people work in the garden.
• Your skin becomes more fragile as you age, and thinning skin is more susceptible to injury from bumps, bruises, cuts and sunburn.
• Your vision is changing, and the loss of peripheral vision and diminishing eyesight can restrict some activities.
• Your thought process and memory abilities may be affected by the aging process.
• As you age, you are more susceptible to temperature changes. Be careful of dehydration or heat exhaustion.
• Your balance is often not as good as when you were younger, and falls can be more damaging to the aging body.
Don’t let the aging process stop you from gardening. Just be selective in how you garden and how much you garden. Keep enjoying the beauty of the outdoors and the special smells and sights of your garden. After all, retirement is for doing what you love.