Tuesday, May 16

Changing the Way We Garden After 50

I have been gardening for over 25 years. I started when we bought our first house, and my boys were toddlers. I love gardening.  It soothes my soul to sow seeds and tend my flowers and herbs. My body is another story.  I have two types of psoriasis, thankfully it's mostly confined to my hands and feet at this point.  I'm fairly healthy besides the psoriasis--my blood pressure is above normal and I need to lose weight, but it's under control.

I've always been a creative introvert with social and generalized anxiety.  Gardening soothes me, and meds take the edge off so I can work through the panic and worry.  When I can't write, and my brain is insists I take on the problems of every person I know because they NEED me to help, no matter what they say, I head out to my garden. I sit. I breathe.  I pull some weeds, and I settle.

It is only when you start a garden - probably after age fifty - that you realize something important happens every day.~Geoffrey B. Charlesworth 

Gardening is hard work, and sometimes you'll feel like you' ve taken on too much.  Perhaps, you are doing too much.  You'll need to be honest about how many hours a day, or week, you can dig, pull weeds, plant and maintain your garden.  It's not an all or nothing situation. Perhaps you'll decide to grow a few culinary herbs, a tomato plant and your favorite flowers. Downsizing your garden is not a bad thing.  It's about quality instead of quantity.

In my case, I have decided to focus on herbs and flowers in an area in the backyard I'm working on with my husband. The rest of our landscaping will be trees, shrubs and perennials that won't have too much physical maintenance. Maybe you'll need to limit yourself to a container garden close to the house, or a raised bed outside the back door.  It doesn't matter if you have more or less, as long as you are honest about what you have the time and energy to maintain.

Here are a few things I've changed in the last two years or so:

1. ALWAYS cover feet and hands with garden gloves and sturdy shoes.  No more casual weeding and digging in the soil, exposing skin to bacteria.  (Last year I had two infections.)

2. Sunscreen is NOT an option. Make yourself use it every time you're outside.

3. Drink water!  Before you head out into the yard, grab a large cover cup with a straw and fill it with ice and water. Dehydration is no joke at any age, but when you're older it can be very very bad.

4. Sit,  if you need to take a break from working.  Don't keep weeding, planting, digging or sowing seeds when you get a pain in your back or vertigo makes an appearance.  I start off standing, then grab a stool and sit while I keep working.  If that doesn't do it, then I take a break and stretch out.

5. Make lists and learn to focus. Figure out what needs to be done, then break it into sections, and work on one thing at a time. Work in the mornings and again in the evening when it's cooler. Everything will get done if you make a plan and stick with it.

Most of all I've learned that it's important to be honest with myself about the type of gardening I want to take on now that I'm older.  The truth is that my body has limitations, but as long as I work with them it will be fine. I won't double dig the soil, or weed for hours at a time because I know it's too much for my back. I like the feel of soil running through my fingers, but I also know wearing gloves is safer and better for my cracked skin.

Growing things brings me joy.  Overworking my body brings pain and injury, which is counterproductive. It's not an all or nothing situation.  

I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. ~Ruth Stout

I want to be like Tasha Tudor or Ruth Stout, two gardeners who adapted and changed throughout the years so they could continue to garden as they aged, sharing their joy and expertise with those around them. They both gardened into their 90's, writing and sharing their wisdom with others.

Lastly, always ask for help when you need it. Family and friends can't read our minds. If we need help in the garden, we need to ask. Grandchildren can be amazing garden helpers.


The Last of the Roses in Autumn

The milkweed pods are breaking,   And the bits of silken down   Float off upon the autumn breeze   Across the meadows brown. ~C...