I just celebrated my 71st birthday and my daughter (my 50 year old daughter!) said that I was now “well into my 70s.” I’m not quite sure how to take that; in my own mind I am barely over 16. However, my muscles disagree and tell me I am definitely over 16, and even over 50. Fortunately I was able to visit with Rose Deskavich, sister member of the Greenfield Garden Club and mistress of a beautiful Greenfield garden and get some advice about gardening in my golden years.
Deskavich can give good advice because she is an occupational therapist and she knows how to help people adapt to the constraints of arthritis or other physical limitations. “I teach people how to use what abilities they have to create a new system for doing things,” she said.
One of the activities she has concentrated on is gardening. “As a professional I think about making things easier, and as a lazy gardener I want to make my own work easier. When I started gardening in the ground it was hard, digging, weeding and hoeing. My clients who garden taught me ways to make it easier,” she said.
While she has learned a great deal from her clients, she has also studied up and found Janeen Adil’s book Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities helpful, as well as the Gardener’s Supply Catalog which offers many adaptive tools and supplies.
Deskavich knows that arthritis, stroke, allergies, Multiple Sclerosis and other conditions can make gardening difficult, but she says there are many benefits including stretching and strengthening muscles and joints, building stamina, flexibility and coordination. There are also the sensual pleasures of the garden and intellectual stimulation for those who observe, study and plan the garden.
Planning is important for every successful gardener. Deskavich recommends planning a garden that is most comfortable for your own abilities, kneeling, standing or sitting. Bending from the waist while standing is to be avoided. I know it is on my must-not-do list. Take advantage of all the long handled tools that are available, and use your arm as much as possible, not just your wrist.
Deskavich reminds us all that carrying our most necessary tools and supplies with us will cut down on tiring trips to get them from their storage spot. I like carrying a trug basket with my tools, but others might find a tool bucket easier. Deskavich pointed out that there are also kneelers with tool pouches to hold essentials.
Pacing yourself is important. I have always said that an enjoyable aspect of gardening is the impossibility of hurrying. I feel that even more as I get older. I’m ever more willing to rest in the shade, have a cool drink and catch my breath. Deskavich says water or unsweetened iced tea are refreshing, but she does not recommend juice or coffee.
While talking to Deskavich in her own garden which includes sun and shade, vegetables and flowers, trees, shrubs and vines, it’s clear to see she is an enthusiastic gardener with many interests, but at the same time there is a feeling of calm. It is easy to imagine her working with clients in the rehab program at Baystate/Franklin Medical Center teaching them gentle movements and easy mindful breathing.
One of the notable elements of her garden is the way she grows many plants in containers including vegetables in Grow Bags from Gardeners Supply Company. Grow Bag containers come in a variety of sizes to accommodate various crops from lettuce to potatoes. She sets hers on the ground and said the sun warms the roots. She has grown some tomatoes in the ground, as I do, but she said they are not doing as well as the tomatoes in the Grow Bag. She leaves the bags outside from year to year and tops them off with a rich booster mix each spring. Her three year old bags look as good as new. In addition to just sitting on the ground, Grow Bags can be set on a table or stone wall.
If you are not interested in Grow Bags which are handsome as well as practical, you can just buy bags of soil at a garden center, set that bag where it will be easy for you to work and plant seeds or seedlings directly in the bag – after cutting an opening. There are many dwarf and bush vegetable varieties that are suited for container growing.
“There isn’t anyone who can’t garden on some level,” she says. “If you really want to garden you can. It won’t be the same as it was when you were 20, but it can still be satisfying.” With that attitude it is no surprise that many of her clients in the hospital’s maintenance therapy program continue for years because they enjoy the companionship of the group, and Deskavich’s cheerful encouragement.
After talking to Deskavich I am more encouraged myself as I plan the next stage in my gardening career, planning that I have been reluctant to begin, but planning that I know is necessary.
This planning is part of my continuing education, and I believe that learning new things, and remaining adaptable is one way of remaining young, at least in one’s mind. I like thinking about Thomas Jefferson, who was even older than me, who once said that he was an old man, but a young gardener. Me too.
A special note. My book about life in my community and among the roses, The Roses at the End of the Road, is now in production. My first signing at The World Eye in Greenfield is scheduled for Saturday August 27 from 11 am to 1 pm. Hope to see you there.
Between the Rows August 6, 2011