A new story from The Garden Question
What about back pain? You have back pains at any age. As you get older, they seem to come up more often, especially after you do strenuous work in the garden. Some people can put a back brace on and others can. Some of the ways you can alleviate your problem or lessen your problem is don't lift with your back. Don't lean over and lift. Squat down and lift with your legs. Don't lift things above your head or you're going to wreck your shoulder. If you have to put them on a body bench or a workbench, bring it up to about your waist. Take a breath, situate yourself, and then go the rest of the way. When you've got bags of fertilizer or bags of mulch, don't carry them out to the garden. Use a coaster wagon or a garden cart or a wheelbarrow. It's better to pull it than push it. If you're going to use a wheelbarrow, get one with two wheels. It's more stable than one with one wheel. Some people can use back braces too. Elevated beds, raised beds, and containers allow you to sit and work in your garden, which is good for people with back problems. I have a friend ask me one time, she said, do you know what my most used garden tool is? I didn't have a clue what she was going to say. She said hand trucks because she could just slide them up under any bag or a pot or anything and just pull back on it and move it around wherever she wanted to. That's right. I've got one of those and it's great, especially for moving pots around. My conveyance of choice is a coaster wagon. Yeah, they don't even sell coaster wagons anymore, I wonder. They do. Most of them are plastic. They even have folding ones. They're a metal frame and a canvas around the frame. They fold up. Yeah, that way you could transport it around too if you needed to. Real easy. If you want to get a real heavy duty one, you know the ones that garden centers have that have the big wheels and the sides that fold down? I think gardeners supply sells them. Oh yeah, yeah. They're not cheap. Yeah, those would be real handy, I would think. Yeah, they are. No, they're all still constructed in those big tires. They'll last forever. I've got some wheelbarrows I call Yeti wheelbarrows and they've got like these six inch wide wheels on them and the handles on them are probably two inches by two inches and they're oak and they just last forever. Now they're not cheap either, but that's probably not something you'd use at an older age, but there's some tools you can buy and pay the money for them and they're well worth it to go ahead and buy the higher quality tool. Things that people have to look at is how to adapt and one is tend your garden, don't toil in it, work smarter, not harder, and embrace imperfection. Some of the things that you can do if you're digging up perennials because they're over growing their space and dividing them every year or two, next time you dig them up, give all four pieces away. Don't put one back in the hole. Replace them with shrubs or dwarf conifers. Shrubs, they only need a little pruning once a year. Dwarf conifers. I've got two dwarf Norway spruce that I got in 2009 in my backyard. I've never even had to prune them. When I design, I want to understand the space that the plant's going in, length, width, height, and use a plant that's going to fit into that space and let it grow to its natural form and shape and not even prune it unless it's just a snip here or there. But most things I do from a low maintenance standpoint, I think that's a great way to go is just buy plants that don't overgrow their space. Embracing imperfection is important too because so many times we want to have something perfect. We see these gardens like longwood gardens that are trimmed to perfection. Well, they have a staff of people who trim them to perfection. That's not nature's way. If nature were perfect, we wouldn't have to have this conversation, Craig, because we wouldn't be having all these diseases and problems, knees wearing out and backs wearing out. It's the same with plants. When you walk through a forest that the plants are in perfect rows, nature didn't plant them that way. People planted them that way. Nature's seeds germinate wherever they fall. You're in New York and I'm in Georgia. Temperatures can be an issue no matter where you live. What's your advice for dealing with temperature extremes? Well, up here, watering, for example, down there you have to irrigate, don't you, quite often? It depends on what plants you choose. We're in a drought right now and I haven't watered my plants one time, but it's because I've got plants that will work in dry times. We're in an area that has one of the great lakes, Lake Ontario, to the north and to the south, the Finger Lakes. So we got lots of water. It's seldom that we run dry or that we even have advisories. I've had my son connect a hose in the backyard at the beginning of the season because I have a holly that was planted last fall and it was looking a little peaked because we weren't getting much rain. So I was going to water it and the dad was going to water it. The state had an air advisory because of wildfires in the Quebec province whose smoke was coming down here. As I sit where I am now, looking out my window, I couldn't even see the house across the street because the smoke was so thick. So I decided the plant was under warranty and I wasn't, so I didn't go out there and water it. And the next day, we got rains. Today, as of last night, we were something like 6.54 inches over average for this year for rain. That's great. I don't want to leave you under the impression that nobody ever irrigates here because they do, especially as in the turf grasses when we're trying to seek perfection. It goes back to what you were saying earlier. Everybody wants that perfect lawn. But if you allow the lawns, like the warm season grasses, to go dormant that we have here, then they'll bounce right back when it starts raining again. That seeking of perfection is what they do here too. I suggest to people for the occasion when they need the water, get soaker hoses. The ones made of recycled tires and snake them through your beds and mulch over them so you don't even see them. When you have to water, you just turn the spigot on a quarter turn because if you turn it on anymore, it's going to make the hose explode because it's such porous rubber. When you do have to water, prioritize any new trees or shrubs. That should be number one on your list. Number two, perennials. Don't worry about your annuals because you're going to be having to change them out pretty soon anyway. And as for your grass, unless you got lots of money to pay your water bill, let it go brown because it's going to green up when the rain comes back. Let's talk about temperature. How do you handle gardening in the warmer temperatures and the cold temperatures? Garden when it's comfortable for you. If you can't stand 90 degree heat, don't go out and garden in the afternoon. Go in the early morning or the later afternoon when it's starting to cool off. If you're always cold, then you might be better off gardening in the afternoon. Do you garden in your area when it's in the winter or do you just let everything go dormant and not worry about it? Let everything go dormant because last year when it was such an easy winter, I only had my driveway plowed three times and three times is nothing up here. I've always thought of gardening as a marathon. What can a gardener do to increase their fading endurance? I don't think you can stop your fading endurance, but you can live with it. First of all, by doing warm-up exercises before you start and cooling down exercises. If you're under a doctor's care, mention it to the doctor and let them tell you what you can and can't do in the way of exercises. Many of them will refer you to a physical therapist and Medicare will probably cover the physical therapy with a co-pay. The physical therapist, at least it's what happened with me, physical therapist will give you an exercise regimen that you can do at home and that'll help. The other thing is timing out how long you work. Start out your day with the most strenuous work and just work until your 20 minutes or half hour is up. Take your break. When you come back, go to a less strenuous job. Each time you take a break, when you come back, go to an even less strenuous job all through the day. You'll probably be just as productive even though you won't get each job done that day. It runs contrary to what we were taught as kids. Mom and dad said, when you start a job, finish it. Well, I'm saying when you start a job, go on to a less strenuous job after your break and you'll be more productive. And just stretch it out over several days. Okay. Walkers in wheelchairs can become a part of staying mobile. What ideas do you suggest to continue gardening with these mobility challenges? Well, I use a walker and if you have a raised bed with a wide cap board, you can kind of sit on it. But the problem is you're parallel to the side of the board, so you're reaching over to do your gardening work. If you have elevated beds, you can actually sit down and there's a place to put your knees under the bed as you're working. And you can get lightweight tools with expandable extension handles. You can set them to where it needs to be to work in that bed. As far as your garden paths, convert them to smooth, wide paths. They should be at least four feet wide to accommodate a wheelchair or a walker. A good paving is flagstone or bluestone set in concrete so that it's not bumpy. Also, place your steps with gentle inclines. You have visual impairments. When you make those inclines, be sure you have handrails and don't start the handrails just at the top of the incline and at the bottom of the incline. Give the person plenty of notice that the incline is coming, so extend the handrails substantially further in either direction. That's a good idea. Tell us some resources that will help the gardener who has downsized to a small backyard. Yeah, there's a book that I would recommend. It's called The Urban Garden. It's written by Kathy Jentz and Terry Speed. It's called The Urban Garden, but it has literally 101 ideas for small space gardens. It doesn't matter whether that small space garden is in the city or in the suburbs or in boondocks. It's got great ideas in it. I would read that when I was trying to make my decision. Are there specific tools, equipment, or modifications that you make to existing tools for those interested in getting started with adaptive gardening? Your old faithful tool is probably starting to get too heavy in your hands. Shovels, rakes, and hoes, they're being made in new lightweight materials these days. The blades are lightweight metal, but strong metal, and the handles are fiberglass. And if you have arthritic fingers like I do and you have trouble grasping them, we recommend putting foam around them. You can either use foam pipe insulation. The downsize of that is it comes like Henry Ford's Model T in any color you want, long as it's black. There's a slit that goes lengthwise because they have to wrap it around the air conditioning pipes. You have to use duct tape lengthwise to seal the slit and then around the end to hold it onto the handle. When I was giving a presentation, somebody suggested using pool noodles. You just slip right on the handle and you can get same color or contrasting color duct tape and you just have to wrap it around the ends to seal the ends. If you're one of these many gardeners who inadvertently leaves tools out in the garden because you forget them, when they're bright blue and glaze orange and safety green, you're not going to miss them. Take them back to the shed or the garage. Then there are ergonomic trowels and hand rakes, as I mentioned before, tools with extension handles so you can set them at the length that's comfortable for you in your raised or elevated beds. Okay, you've written a book, The Geriatric Gardener. What is it about your book that's going to tell us things that we can't find on the internet? It's actually a compilation and an edited version of my first two years of blogging. You can find it on the internet. You have to scroll way back four years to get to it, put it all together in a logical sequence into six sections and 60 chapters, like how adaptive garden, making important decisions, making less important decisions, adaptive gardening through the seasons, and when outdoor gardening is out of the question. You can open that up to the table of contents and find who you have a question about before you can even boot up your computer. Where's the best place to order your book? We're selling it direct because knowing that senior citizens are on fixed income, I wanted to keep it inexpensive. So the cover price is $14.95. The only place to get it is thegeriatricgardener.wordpress.com. If you go to my blog, at the end of each post, click on the link and that'll take you to our secure website portal for ordering the book. Anything else that you'd like to tell us about the book? Well, the thing I like about the book is it's very experiential. Most of the suggestions I make to you is stuff I've done myself. It gets into not only the three seasons that we actively garden, but into the four seasons of winter. And for the people that you have snow, I have ideas on how to get rid of the snow. First of all, don't shovel and how to negotiate a contract with a driveway plow contractor, how to make sure you get them to do what you want them to do. For example, at my house, my ginkgo tree is on one side of the driveway near the garage. I have a garden of ornamental grasses and black-eyed Susans and flocks and a yucca in the middle of the front yard. On the other side, I had to work hard to get this plow contractor to not push the snow on either side. He couldn't figure out how to do it. Finally, after I explained to him how I wanted it done, go up to the garage, drop the plow, pull it back beyond the gardens, and then push it over to the side. He's gotten it after three years.