May, 2001 Published The Last Monday Of Every Month story by Christine S. Diamond, Cox News Service Grandpa is 71. He's been growing veggies in a raised bed alongside the in-ground pool for as long as I can remember. Gran is 74. She only started gardening when she moved to Huntsville, Texas, after Papa died in 1985. Not only does she tend a large, fenced-in garden, but she diligently composts. Great-Great Uncle Vernon is 83 — and he is legally blind from a degenerative eye disorder. But he continues to sow, plant, weed and harvest. I mention these "senior gardeners" as a banner for all gardeners in or entering their "Golden Years." A few weeks ago, a thoughtful, older reader brought me a bag full of gardening books — I was really flattered at such generosity. But what he said to me — "I had dreams of growing. . . but it's too late now" — saddened me and caught me off-guard. I wasn't sure what to say. In my insomniac hours I dwelt on his words probably more than he ever intended me to. I'd like to think it is only "too late" when they close our eyes to the light of day. Last spring, I visited several gardeners at the nursery who were frustrated with pain from aging and its inevitable physical limitations. Death, pain and disability come to those of all ages. Sure, the chance of meeting death increases at an exponential rate with each day we live. Don't cheat your garden by giving up too soon. Isn't this the whole reason we give plants to our friends in the nursing home or hospital: To signify that there is hope and not to give up on life? While our wardrobe of aches and pains also increases with our years, many are bom with a life of pain or are dealt from that deck early on. Take my brother's best friend who had muscular dystrophy. The smiling kid, although confined to a wheelchair, succeeded at finding mischief with my brother - died last winter at 20. My brother's memories combined with the eulogies of John's college peers attest to his active life. I was reminded recently of a gardener I met last spring when a man in a wheelchair held the door for me at the courthouse. The man I met last year rode around the nursery in his modern scooter picking out plants and taking them home to plant on a ranch he still managed. There are ways to beat the pains and disabilities that might rob us of our days in the sun caring for our plants. In fact, thanks to a relatively new (some say the 1950s and others the late 1800s) division of horticulture, the options are multiplying. Socio-Horticulture or Horticultural Therapy is aimed at making gardening accessible to the disabled, the elderly and the "at risk" teens. Starting with simple techniques such as using an old pillow for aching knees and bearing in mind that necessity is the mother of invention, gardening can be adapted to your ability. Make it your style. Gran can't bend over to get those weeds so well anymore. So my aunt and uncle got her a little plastic bench that rolls along her garden paths. It even has an inside compartment for storing her hand- tools. Another trendy term is "accessible or enabling gardens." An example would be garden tables built for those in wheel chairs. These tables would be only as wide as one could easily reach across. More and more, researchers are realizing the importance of nature in the well-being of mankind. Of course, we gardeners already know the peace of mind working with plants brings us. But stats and facts have helped in the implementation of gardens for the clients to work in at nursing homes, geriatric centers and adult day-care centers. Never give up gardening. Never give up your days in the sunshine.
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