I’m carefully adjusting my gardening activities to keep them fun, interesting, educational and as pain free as I can, so I can garden as long as I can. Remember Marlon Brando in the Godfather taking his last breath in his garden? What a way to go.
Let me share a few things I’ve learned and experienced while living on nine acres of greenery for the past 17 years in Hickory Flat. Much of this applies to any age, but becomes more important the more years you have under your skin:
n First, gardening is good for your health. It’s great exercise. Walking to and fro in your garden builds up stamina, bending to dig and harvest and stretching to prune flexes hundreds of body muscles and prevents osteoporosis, it improves your breathing and helps you sleep better and just makes you feel emotionally satisfied for getting back to the natural world.
n Assess your own stamina each time you go out into your garden. Garden in the cooler hours of the morning.
Don’t overdo it, even if you feel great starting out, and (this is the hardest part for me) pack up and save it for tomorrow before you begin to tire. I put a timer in my pocket and set it for 30 minutes for hard work like cutting and clearing in the woods, longer for simply weeding around my veggies.
When it beeps I stop, put my tools away, walk around and enjoy the look of what I’ve done, then head back to the house.
n Warm up before and after gardening by doing some knee and back stretches to reduce muscle soreness. Carry a water bottle into the garden and drink liberally. It lubricates those older muscles.
Move smoothly; bend at the knees instead of the waist. Consider raised beds and trellised plants (such as beans and cucumbers) to reduce the need for frequent deep bending.
n In gardening season, I keep a can of insect spray by my door and spray all over before I go outdoors to garden. It deters mosquitoes whose bites can make you quite uncomfortable. (Especially as we age, bites and other bug wounds heal more slowly).
Also, take precautions for ticks which fall off trees and high plants. My husband and I do “tick checks” after working in the woods and have picked several off each other. Fortunately I’ve never had Lyme disease, but I have had a tick embedded in my leg for several days which caused me great discomfort.
n Be especially careful when using power tools such as weed whackers and leaf blowers. They can quickly tire you out and may cause you to stumble on uneven terrain.
As a general rule at our house, neither of us ever uses power tools when home alone. And remember, keeping all tools, even hand tools, well maintained (oiled, sharpened and in good working condition) makes them easier to use.
n Several websites offer senior-friendly gardening aids such as scooters and benches, carriers, and easy grip hand tools. Consider items that reduce the need to bend (like tomato towers), and that protect head, feet and hands.
n If a senior in your family is memory impaired gardening may still be good physical and emotional therapy for them. I work with many assisted living communities and gardening within secure fences and gates allows residents many happy hours outdoors keeping active. You may want to secure an area and monitor a loved one’s activities in your own garden.
n If your own garden is too small to keep you active, volunteer to maintain one at a senior community near you. Local nursing homes and senior communities welcome speakers, advice and assistance with indoor and outdoor plants, landscaping and plant therapy.
n Finally, gardening is fun, even in times that may not be fun for you. Few things raise the spirit like getting outdoors early in the day and taking part in making things grow. Practicing the tips above can make it safer and less painful for us senior gardeners.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.