In the Garden:
Brightly colored flowers, herbs, and a tomato plant plus hummingbirds, rabbits, and guinea hens create an environment that brings delight to my mother.
I cannot remember a time when my mother didn't garden. Until this year. Age and illness have radically reduced her scope in 2003. No longer does she freely roam and carefully tend the three-quarters of an acre of trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, and vegetables that was once her domain. That now falls under my keep. And, in that sense, she still has it, but I wanted to create something special for her this year that was more relevant to her altered lifestyle.
In this reduced Eden there are bright flowers, ample herbs, and bounteous tomatoes growing in numerous planters on the 10 x 18-foot deck. The surrounding flower beds have been weeded and mulched. A little pool and waterfall that can be seen from the deck has been restored to provide the relaxing sound of water -- and memories of my father who first put it there. To add to the animation, we have the resident cat and dog plus assorted hummingbird feeders, the bunny condo, and the guinea hen A-frame, all within view from the deck. With table, chairs, and umbrella, this area has brought pleasure not only to my mother but to all who spend time here.
A Healing Garden
Whether you have an aging or disabled parent or other relative, or a yen to volunteer at a nursing home or community garden, both the recipient(s) and you will benefit in more ways than you can imagine if you help to create this specialized paradise. Horticultural therapy is not a new science. I can remember attending conferences thirty years ago. But as the population ages, more and more attention is being paid to the benefits of gardening as a way to provide therapeutic benefits for both body and spirit.
Gardening styles for the elderly and disabled can be readily adapted to a small backyard, a deck or patio, an apartment balcony or courtyard, or the grounds of a hospital or retirement home. In some situations, it's important to allow the individuals to take an active role in the development and maintenance, while in others, the recipients will just be delighted to have the opportunity to sit in the area. Be mindful of those you are trying to help.
Modifications and Adaptations
Among the physical changes that take place as we age is our vision, so choose flowers with bright colors. Grow plants that offer tactile surfaces or strong (but pleasant!) scent. Changes in the muscular and skeletal system make bending, lifting, and even walking difficult. Falling is more likely. Raised beds, possibly with an edge for sitting, tabletop gardens, and containers are ideal.
Adaptive tools with improved grips, extendable handles, or better leverage are available. Use self-watering planters, water-releasing crystals, lightweight hoses, or any tools or gizmos that make chores easier. Choose an area that is easily accessible and that has a water source. Nearby bathroom facilities are another plus, in other words, don't put the garden area at the far back corner of the yard!
If possible, provide smooth paths for walkers and wheelchairs, as well as sturdy stools and chairs for sitting while working or resting. Provide a garden umbrella or a shady area for cooling, pleasurable rests.
In choosing plants, keep the overall concept simple. One well-grown tomato plant can bring as much pleasure as the once enormous vegetable garden. Don't go for the latest fad plant necessarily; instead, choose plants that are familiar and that trigger happy memories. And be sure to create your own happy memories by spending time talking, visiting, and relaxing in this special garden with the person for whom it was made.
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