Winter and the holidays are coming all too quickly. If you are looking for books to give as holiday gifts, I have some suggestions for you. Today’s is The Lifelong Gardener: Garden with Ease & Joy at Any Age by Tony Gattone, a new publication by Timber Press.
As much as I love gardening, my body reminds me that I’m not as young as I used to be. For the last five years, I have, therefore, been trying to find ways to cut back on maintenance. Once I started reading the book, I was discouraged by what seemed to be simplistic, rah-rah motivational “speaking” but as I read further, I found several ideas that make this book worthwhile.
The theme of this book is “Garden smarter, not harder”, a line taken from an article that the author read when she was flat on her back after moving a heavy concrete pot. By now, we are all aware that gardening is good for our health but many of the chores involve either heavy labor or repetitive motions. Therefore, Toni suggests ten adaptive gardening rules. From experience, I would say that one of the most important is taking time to stretch your muscles before going into the garden. Another is switching chores every thirty minutes so that you are using different parts of your body.
A third rule is asking for help from a friend, spouse, or landscaper who is knowledgeable about something like pruning. Knowing our limits is crucial. I no longer wish to climb ladders to prune my climbing roses so my crew does it for me. Lucky me!
The tips that Toni offers about reducing back pain, knee pain, and hand pain are very important for all of us. She also includes a list of exercises designed specifically for gardeners.
One tip she doesn’t mention is wearing a hard wrist brace when pruning to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. I have found it to make a huge difference, particularly in the spring when there is so much pruning to be done. The tools we use are crucial to our health and there is an extensive discussion of ergonomics and of tools that do not require bending. Toni highly recommends the hori hori knife. I’ve been using it for years and keep it in stock. She also recommends trying out different pruners, particularly if you have small hands. Squeezing a pair of pruners that open too wide puts extra pressure on your finger muscles.
Gardener profiles examine people’s physical limitations and how they can deal with them. For those with limited mobility, raised beds are often the answer. It’s never too soon to start revising the garden with an eye to lessening maintenance. Toni suggests that one needs to be honest about what chores cause discomfort and which can be eliminated or relegated to hired help or friends. Always to be considered are safety (rethinking hardscape and lighting), comfort, accessibility, sustainability (rethinking the amount of lawn), time, and what most gives joy. There are several tips about achieving each of these factors.
In the section on Right Plant, Right Place, Toni suggests selecting plants that have lower water requirements or require lower maintenance. One of her solutions is substituting flowering shrubs for perennials but there are several perennials that are very low maintenance. It’s really a matter of plant knowledge.
Two options offered for the aging gardener are gardening vertically and/or in containers and several options are discussed. Long ago, I decided that I would discontinue the use of terracotta containers that needed to be moved into the garage for the winter to prevent cracking. Now, all my containers are either concrete, freeze-proof glazed ceramic, fiberglass or resin. I disagree that concrete containers crack in cold climates. Some of mine are thirty-five years old.
Although this book is aimed at the aging or partially disabled gardener, I think it is valuable for anyone who gardens.