A hand planting seeds that are pills and flowers growing that resemble hearts

Gardening Ideas for the Physically Challenged

"Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul." -Luther Burbank

I’ve been gardening in some form or another for most of my life. First as an “unpaid assistant” in my parents' garden, then a short hiatus as a teen, after which I returned as a young adult. I’ve always found it relaxing and fulfilling, a way to separate myself from the outside world and retreat into my own private calm space.

We had to change the ways we garden

Then illness hit both for myself (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) and my spouse (COPD). This has caused us to change the way we garden and to approach it from a slightly different mindset. We’ve had to find ways to accommodate and adjust for our various limitations.

One thing we did was find help. In our case, for a while, we had young teens that wanted to earn some pocket cash. With their parents' permission, they would help us with the heavier tasks (digging, etc.) but as most do, they matured and went other ways.

Our conditions will continue to limit us

We realize that our conditions will limit us more as the years progress so we’re doing other things that will also help. For example, this year we’re installing a watering system to massively simplify an unusually active task (moving a hose multiple times a day can get very old quickly). This could be done as simply as using soaker hoses to aid in watering.

Gardening tips for the physically challenged

Buying good quality tools, especially ones designed to be ergonomic, has been a great aid. One thing that many don’t realize is that hoes and shovels are supposed to be sharp, unlike the ones you find at most big box stores. They can be sharpened with a file but an angle grinder is yet another way to make the job much easier.

Raised beds, while known to many, are still a foreign concept to many gardeners. They reduce the amount of path space in your garden while maximizing the amount of plantable area. The added benefit is that once you establish a bed, you never again put your weight on that soil. This keeps the soil structure loose and friable, which your plants will thank you for with increased harvests (either vegetables or flowers). There are a number of companies that sell elevated raised bed systems for those unable to get down to earth level for whatever reason.

Mulching is another idea that has been around for a long time, but I regularly run into gardeners who don’t for some reason or other. The benefits are many such as keeping the soil cooler, more friable, attracting earthworms and reducing water for a few.

Evaluate and assess what you grow

Other ways of working around limitations are to evaluate what you grow. What gives you the greatest “value” for work, time and money spent. In our case, we’ve increased the number of flowers both annual and perennial, eliminated things we realize we seldom eat. We grow a lot of tomatoes as there is an extreme difference in taste from what you can buy to a homegrown tomato. I even try to grow a few potatoes, even though they are so cheap. I find the taste to be better (not to mention I have a broader selection). Alliums, such as onions and garlic, are easy to grow and usually produce well.

As to how to garden there seem to be two schools of thought. Those that use commercial fertilizer and organic gardeners. I admit to being an organic gardener and will only list my own reasons for being thus. I know what’s going on or into my plants. I can eat a tomato warm in the garden. And each addition I make to the garden, whether it be an animal byproduct, compost, leaves, etc., all increase the quality of the soil over the years. I’ve been lucky. I approached a local feed store, gave them my number and asked them to pass it onto any large purchasers of rabbit feed, with the hope of finding a source for rabbit excrement (the Cadillac of fertilizer). After a few weeks I was called and not only would this farmer sell me what I wanted but even deliver it!

Why I garden

There is so much more I can say here and if there is interest, I’d be glad to go into much more detail, but to keep this brief I’ll end here with this thought. Producing your own food, through easy labor in nice weather is wonderfully fulfilling. While I’ve had to modify my approach and will have to more so in years to come, I hope to be able to do some form of gardening for decades yet.

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