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Adaptive Gardening

by Barbara Brown

Now that we can put summer’s unrelenting heat in our review mirrors, it is a great opportunity to spend a bit more time outdoors. Getting 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure a couple of times a week helps our bodies manufacture Vitamin D. And, “A growing body of research suggests that exposure to nature and time outdoors also provides health benefits, particularly for mental health and an improved sense of well-being.” according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Working outside whether to increase landscape beauty or grow fresh vegetables is one way to increase your time outside. But, if you are concerned that gardening may be a bit too hard on your body, take heart! With some planning and a few changes to the techniques and tools that you use, you can be a successful gardener at any age.

What is adaptive gardening?

Adaptive gardening provides a way for gardeners of all ages and abilities to continue to enjoy working in the garden. A few helpful modifications such as placing the garden near a source of water, using a raised bed at a height that decreases the need for bending over, and making the area small enough to accommodate those with a limited range of motion or the need to reduce stress on their joints.

There are also specialized or ergonomic tools for gardeners. Ergonomic tools make executing gardening tasks easier on the body by using longer handles, lightweight materials and smaller grips. These tools are used to neutralize joint position and minimize joint stress. Ergonomic tools come in different sizes and usually have soft padding for comfort and to decrease vibrations. They are available at some nurseries and online.

Setting up an adaptive garden

Locate the garden in an area that is easily accessible. When selecting containers or creating raised beds, your goal is to raise the soil level within easy reach. For example, a soil level of 24 to 36 inches above the ground does not require much bending to add plants or harvest produce. Beds should be no more than three feet across. Add soil with lots of organic material to promote plant health and make digging easier. Soaker hoses or automated sprinkler systems help with watering chores.

Containers or hanging baskets are alternatives to a raised bed. Large containers provide stability and correct height but are challenging to move without help. Hanging baskets can grow flowers, trailing vines and some leafy vegetables. Be sure to place hanging baskets at a height that can be accessed for watering and harvesting.

If you find that you tend to tire easily, place garden chairs or benches in strategic places. Install pathways that are firm, level, well-drained and have good traction. For those who need a cane or wheelchair, make sure pathways are wide enough, level and barrier-free. A minimum of 40 inches wide is required for wheelchairs or scooters. A wider space is needed for turning around. Use straight paths and rails for those with visual problems.

Selecting plants

Choose shorter plants for raised beds and containers so they will not grow out of reach. Be sure to plant varieties with similar sun and water requirements in the same area. Flowering plants like marigolds, vincas, and zinnias are good choices for sunny gardens while impatiens and begonia tolerate shade. If you want to grow vegetables, keep in mind that most leafy greens are cool weather crops grown in fall and early spring and fruiting crops like tomatoes and peppers are planted in spring for later harvesting. Select varieties labeled dwarf, compact or patio for growing in small areas or raised beds.

Yes, a garden is a bit of work but it is also a place of quiet tranquility and beauty to enjoy every day!

For more information about gardening in North Texas see Happy Gardening!

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