Tips For Keen Gardeners Who Are Getting Older
Whatever the season, there’s something very therapeutic and welcoming about being out in the garden. As people age, gardening can become harder physically but that doesn’t mean you need to put down the gardening tools. Here are our tips for keen gardeners who are getting older.
In this article, ElWell physiotherapist Nancy Farmer explains why gardening can become physically harder as you age. And gardening expert Claire Vokins from Wilson Vokins gives her top tips for keen gardeners who are getting older. Whether you have a sprawling garden like Monty Don, an easy retirement garden or something in between, there are tips here for you.
Gardening Is A Great Form Of Alternative Exercise
If you’re wondering ‘is gardening exercise’, then the answer is YES! There are many physical advantages of gardening, and it can help you to stay active, fit and flexible, especially for the elderly. I call gardening alternative exercise – you don’t always consider gardening to be ‘exercise’ because it is so rewarding and enjoyable. An added bonus really!
As you get older, gardening can help the elderly improve their general health. The joyful act of gardening can help to strengthen bones, muscles and joints and improve balance (which can help to prevent falls). It combines some cardiovascular activity (such as mowing and light digging) which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
There’s A Positive Link Between Gardening And Mental Wellbeing
Being in the garden helps you connect with nature, and there’s a positive link between gardening and mental wellbeing. Gardening when you’re older can be rewarding when you see the fruits of your labour during the different seasons.
The benefits of gardening as you get older are huge. Studies have shown that gardeners have reduced levels of the hormone cortisol, which leads to better sleep and lower stress. In fact, physiotherapists at a hospital in Guernsey set up a ‘therapy garden’ and a gardening group for rehab patients.
The Older Gardener
Gardening can become more difficult for the older gardener. As a physiotherapist, I focus on adapting physical activities to suit an individual’s ability. My tips for keen gardeners who are getting older are:
Stretch Before Gardening
Prevent injury whilst gardening and stretch before you start. Even weeding a garden is a form of exercise and can be strenuous, and a simple stretch before gardening will help you warm up. Listen to your body and do what feels right. Move your arms from side to side and up and down. Some simple squats will release tension in the lower back and warm up the legs.
Planning Ahead Is The Trick To Smart Gardening
Before you start gardening, work out what you want to focus on – this task can help to improve cognitive function which can reduce the risk of dementia. Get your gardening tools and seeds ready and take them with you. This will avoid older gardeners having to get up and down too often, which can put strain on the back. It’s an idea to put small gardening tools into a bucket (as long as it’s not too heavy) so they’re easier to carry.
Older Gardeners Should Bend From The Hips
That’s right, older gardeners (or any gardeners really!) should bend from the hips and not the waist. This will help to protect your back. You can also prevent injury if you don’t twist while you turn. If you need to move to the side, think about this and make it a new movement.
Pace Yourself In The Garden
Take your time, take a break when you need one and try not to do too many things at once. Spread out activities over the week instead of having one mega gardening day. Like I said, planning ahead is the trick to smart gardening so if you have planned well, this should help you to pace yourself. Turning your space into more of an easy retirement garden should help too.
Kneeling While Gardening Is Hard For The Elderly
If you can kneel down in the garden, make sure you can get back up easily. A sturdy support or someone to help you will help. Relieve pressure on the knees and use a kneeling pad (a firm kitchen chair cushion will do) or specially built gardening kneeler. We’ve also got some great tips below from Claire Vokins about raised garden beds which provide alternatives to plant without having to kneel down.
Reduce Your Risk Of Falling Over In The Garden
Stay safe in the garden and only take on what you feel able to do. A handyman or a gardener could help with bigger garden tasks such as mowing or using a ladder. Look for trip hazards (don’t trip over hose pipes, put away gardening tools). And if you have fallen over in the garden recently and need to build your confidence back up, read our article to help you through this.
Our Tips For Keen Gardeners Who Are Getting Older
Expert gardener Claire Vokins gives her advice for gardening when you’re older.
We’re thrilled to have Claire contribute here, because she focuses on designing gardens that will serve you well as you get older.
She understands that it can become more difficult for the ageing gardener, so looks to introduce items into a garden design that will be beneficial in later life. Such as handrails which plants can grow along but can be removed when the gardener is older.
A Well Designed Low Maintenance Garden
There is no such thing as a zero maintenance garden (even concrete needs sweeping) but a low maintenance garden can be a little paradise for older gardeners. Here are some garden modifications and easy planting solutions ideal for older adults.
Best Plants For The Elderly
Everyone loves roses don’t they, but the reality is that these are not the best plants for the elderly to have in their low maintenance garden.
They require a lot of care – pruning in the winter requires a lot of secateur work (which requires hand dexterity) and when the roses flower, they need to be dead headed which means a lot of bending down to pick up dropped petals. Instead, older gardeners should use plants that require less attention.
So what are the best plants for older gardeners? I would go for a mix of the below!
Herbaceous Perennial Plants
These include geraniums, lavender, achillea, ferns to name a few. Their full life cycle lasts a number of years, not just one year. They require minimum effort as you only need to cut them back to the ground once a year (end of February or beginning of March).
Use these amongst the herbaceous perennial plants. Ornamental grass gives height and structure to the low maintenance garden all year.
Evergreen Shrubs And Specimen Trees
These provide structure that will give interest all year round. I particularly like trees that have an interesting bark (such as prunus serrula).
Raised Gardening Beds
Elevated raised garden beds or raised pots are a great solution for older gardeners as there is no need to bend down.
You can control the height of the raised bed making them good for gardeners in wheelchairs and allowing others to either stand or sit when gardening.
To avoid over-streching, reduce reaching distance in your raised bed. If you can only access the raised gardening bed from one side, make sure it is no wider than two feet. Beds accessible from both sides can be four feet across.
Keep them near the house so you don’t have far to walk or carry watering cans.
Vegetable Gardening For The Elderly
Growing vegetables requires more input, sometimes on a daily basis, from sowing seeds though to harvesting. The following easy tips are what I do myself as I’m a bit time poor for my own garden and they’re also great for older gardeners!
Raised Vegetable Beds
Easy ‘quick win’ vegetables to grow (such as beetroot, radish, chard, salad leaves, spring onions, peas and beans) are great for older gardeners to grow in raised vegetable beds. All these vegetables can be direct sown in April or May and you can start harvesting around five weeks later.
Elevated Small Herb Planter
You can’t go wrong with a small herb planter. Rosemary and sage will behave like the herbaceous perennials. Chives, parsley and basil are easy to grow from seed.
Easy Weeding As You Get Older
As Nancy said above, weeding can be strenuous but these easy weeding tips should help.
The best way to deter weeds to not to give them space to grow! Fill your borders and raised beds with plenty of herbaceous perennial plants and you’ll hardly see any weeds – they will find it difficult to compete.
If your garden or raised bed is new and the plants have bare soil between them, cover with a mulch, compost or fine bark. This will block sunlight from getting to any dormant weeds.
Top Tips For Staying Safe In The Garden
- Use gardening gloves to keep hands from being cut or dried out from soil.
- Use quality tools that you find comfortable and keep them clean and sharp. This will ultimately help make any gardening jobs using tools easier!
- Use a wheelbarrow or trolley to move anything heavy around the garden (or ask someone to help you).
- Have a small kit bag with all the gardening tools you need for that day. That way you won’t need to walk back and forth more than needed.
- Find a well-balanced watering can. I know this sounds a little strange, but it can be difficult to water with a cheaper version. You may also want to consider automatic watering systems to reduce the amount of hand watering.
- If physically something has changed meaning you are less able to maintain your garden, then look for alternatives. Speak with a gardener and see how your garden can become more accessible as you get older.
So there you have it – our tips for keen gardeners who are getting older. With expert comment from both a physiotherapist and a gardener, this article provides a comprehensive look at gardening for the elderly. Happy gardening!