Gardening keeps you young, but gardeners do get older. Petunia has an aunt who is still gardening at 90. While 90 is the new 70, it is still not 30. Since Aunt Dotty wanted to continue gardening, Petunia and Bunkey decided to make gardening easier for her.
To start, they had several raised beds built for her. (Bunkey is definitely not a carpenter.) Three of the beds are 30-inches high and 5-feet wide. This width makes it easy for Dotty to reach the middle from either side. Two other beds are wheelchair accessible. They are a 10-inch tray supported in 30-inch-tall legs so if she has to be in a wheelchair later, she can still garden. The bottom of the raised beds have a layer of cardboard to prevent any stray weeds from popping up. They are filled with a layer of compost in the bottom and then potting mix. As the compost rots, Dotty will need to add more potting mix. She has a nice pile of well-rotted compost, so she added that to her soil mix.
Dotty, like many older people, cannot grip tools as tightly as she used too. Bunkey modified some of her favorite hand tools by putting a layer of foam padding on them. He added arm braces to her rakes and hoes. Now she will use her whole arm rather than just her hand to the wrist. She had a wheeled scooter so she could move from place to place without having to stand up. Since Dotty had been doing much of her gardening on her hands and knees, the handles on her scooter helped her to stand up after a spate of weeding. If she needs more tools there are some with ergonomically angled heads and others with extended heads. He and Petunia always check the new seed catalogs for new and improved tools for people with arthritic hands and/or better and easier ways to garden.
There are many ways to build a raised garden. Cedar or redwood are best if you are using wood. Many of the gardening catalogs sell corner braces so you only need to have the planks the proper sizes. Then you just pop them together. Treated lumber or railroad ties can and do leach chemicals into the soil. If you must use them. don’t plant root crops next to the sides as that is where the most leaching occurs. Concrete blocks work well. You can even fill the holes with soil and plant trailing flowers in them. It goes without saying that these beds need to be in full sun to do best. Full sun is considered from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. you can squinch that a bit but not much.
If you like to garden on your knees, gardening pants with removable pads are a must. There are gardening stools with high handles that help you get up. It beats crawling up to the nearest tree to lean against to get back on your feet. Saves on the clothing too.
The moral of this article is, you’re never too old to garden. You just need the proper tools.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.