Mobility issues can come in many types. Multiple Sclerosis, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, back problems and arthritis are only a few of the medical conditions which create difficulties for those who love to garden. My own issue is MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and here are ten tips which have helped me enjoy my own garden. Some will require help to set up and others can be done alone.
1) Best Height – Try to have your garden at a height higher than ground level. In the vegetable garden, this can mean planting in raised rows, simply raking the soil to the center of a row from each side, creating a running mound you can plant in. However, this can be taken further into a deluxe model if someone can build you a raised platform two to three feet off the ground, bounded by a mini-wall of 4×4’s. Even six inches can make a difference, but of course the higher the planting area, the easier it will be, particularly if it is built so that you can sit on the edge to weed and still reach the entire planting area. The idea is to prevent you from having to bend to the ground in order to reach your plants. Instead, your plants are brought up more to your level.
2) Sit down – Weed from a stool instead of bending over or kneeling. I use a small aluminum folding stool purchased at my local hardware store. This stool has an attached canvas bag with pockets lining both front and sides. Because of these pockets, all my gardening tools, including my gloves and my seed packets are kept with me. No more need to get up and go get anything once I start weeding or planting. I move this stool around as I need to and weed between my legs in the front. Since I started using this method, it has been such a strain reliever.
3) Recycle – If you need to get rid of a lot of weeds, try newspaper. This method requires you to save a lot of newspapers. This should not include the colored papers or the slick magazine pages. Only the black and white newspaper sections. To kill the weeds, you need to lay down at least six layers of newspaper and these should be then fully soaked. Put a thick layer of mulch on top of these wet papers and then wet the mulch. The newspapers will block the weeds and eventually disintegrate, adding a composting material to your soil, much like the mulch will. This also aids in reducing the amount of weeding you will need to do.
4) Steady your walk – Clear paths where you will be walking free of any debris or uneven ground. It is much more difficult to walk through a garden that does not have level walking areas. Particularly those of us with balance issues need easy paths to get around. Keep the mounds in the beds, rocks in the rock garden and not on the paths.
5) Easy watering – Use a soak-er hose to water your garden. These can be laid down at the beginning of a season and hooked together long enough to water your beds. This prevents you from having to drag a hose around or move in and out of the garden in order to move sprinkler systems. Put that hose down where you need it, hook it up to your outdoor faucet and then simply turn on the water when you need it. Another advantage to this: soaker hoses put the water where the plants need it instead of wasting it on the leaves. Using this method also reduces problems with fungus and mold.
6) Downsize your tools – If normal garden rakes and wheelbarrows are too heavy for you to manage, try the smaller tools and a dumping dust pan instead. We purchased a small six inch rake, almost like a child’s rake and then salvaged my old dustpan built attached to a handle that you could easily dump what you sweep up. I use the small rake to get piles of weeds I’ve pulled, raking them into the dustpan, which then tilts closed so nothing spills out. Because these are so light I can easily do small amounts at a time, dumping the weeds into the yard waste area. Think small, light tasks instead of large, heavy ones.
7) Timing is everything – Garden in early morning or evening. The hot, mid-day sun can often wreak havoc with many mobility limiting illnesses. Getting overheated or too much sun can affect balance, increase fatigue and in the case of Multiple Sclerosis, often bring on additional symptoms. Early morning or early evening can still give you enough light to work but not so much sun or heat that you over do it. For the same reason as above, keep a bottle of water with you. Making sure you keep yourself hydrated during outdoor activities can keep you more alert and less fatigued.
8) Good soil the easy way – Instead of a compost pile, try trench composting instead. For more information, see my article, This method is the one I use instead of trying to turn a compost pile. It works well, requires little strength and is easier on the back.
9) A mobile garden – If a large garden is still too much for you, try container gardening. Pots can be used for a variety of plants, including vegetables. They make very light weight planters now out of plastic and something else akin to Styrofoam. These are light to initially set up and if you place them on wheeled coasters can be easily moved around your patio even after you’ve added your plants. Another advantage to container gardening is the height. The planters raise the plants for you, similar to the first suggestion in this list. Of course you also have the added advantage of dealing with fewer weeds in the first place.
10) Enjoy your efforts – Finally, make sure you have a bench or swing in or near your garden. After all the work you do in your garden, you should have a place to sit comfortably, rest and enjoy your work. When the work becomes too much for you, sit on your bench, watch for butterflies, listen to the birds and simply enjoy being outdoors. This one thing in the list can be very healing, both emotionally and physically.
Mobility issues need not keep you from doing everything you enjoy. The key is to think light, think portable and take fewer steps. Happy Gardening my friends!