The unusual circumstances we have been experiencing in recent weeks have led to new interest in self-sufficiency among those living in and around Exeter, and indeed further afield. But whether you are looking to grow your own vegetables, cultivate flower beds or simply keep the grass cut and the borders tidy, gardening is a great way to keep busy, both mentally and physically. That’s particularly the case for the older generation, who are likely to be feeling the effects of lockdown restrictions for longer than most.
However, limited mobility and the effects of conditions like arthritis can make the prospect of working in the garden more of a chore than a pleasure. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Researchers have found that there are numerous benefits to gardening for seniors, including maintaining motor skills and reducing stress. Meanwhile, exposure to sunlight boosts serotonin and Vitamin D. With advanced planning, the right gardening aids and some basic safety precautions, age needs be no barrier to enjoying the benefits and pleasure of gardening.
An accessible garden
Inevitably, every garden will have hazards such as steps and slippery or uneven ground that can become a big problem for those with mobility issues. Falls and slips are among the most common accidents to occur in the garden and can lead to anything from a minor abrasion to broken bones.
There are several aspects to making your garden more accessible, and the first is all about space. Ideally, pathways should 1.8 metres wide to allow two people to walk side by side. At a minimum, they need to be 1.2 metres to allow easy access with a wheelchair or walking aid. Ensure overhanging branches and shrubs are kept well trimmed.
Next, look at the surface itself. Gravel and cobblestones are hard to negotiate with a wheelchair or walking frame, while woodchip can become slippery when wet. Flagstones or tarmac are an ideal solution, but a simple and low-cost alternative is to lay down some roll out tracking.
The right equipment
Raised beds and taller planters are essentials if getting down on your hands and knees is not as easy as it once was. Choose narrow planters of maximum width 50cm to avoid overstretching, unless they can be accessed from either side.
If arthritis makes conventional gardening tools difficult and painful to use, there are alternatives available from specialist suppliers such as CareCo. These include lightweight ergonomic scoopers, trowels and hand forks with curved handles that provide extra leverage. You might also consider long-reach forks, hoes and trowels to reduce the need to bend down.
Finally, remember to follow some basic safety tips. With the sun finally putting in an appearance, it’s more tempting than ever to get out into the garden. But senior gardeners need to follow the advice they have been giving to children and grandchildren year after year and remember the importance of sunscreen and a hat.
Also, it pays to always have a mobile phone with you when you go out, just in case – and make sure it’s charged. Enjoy your summer in the garden, and stay safe!