Gardening tips for older people
Gardening can be a joy. It’s satisfying, can be productive and it’s very good exercise. Age makes some tasks harder – the digging, mowing and pruning – but with a bit of thought there’s still plenty that can be done at any age.
The Horticultural Trade Association in the UK has estimated that as many as 3 million people took up gardening in the year of the Coronavirus pandemic, and more than half of those are over 45.
For those who are new to the joys of gardening, here are a few tips for taking the hard effort out and keeping the pleasure in.
Garden lovers will want to choose and maintain the planting for as long as possible. From experience I recommend that pruning the roses will be something that a real gardener wants to keep doing for as long as possible. Deadheading is easy, beneficial to the plant and very satisfying.
On the other hand, ripping down ivy is best left to someone with muscle and stamina. And the scar on my father’s face suggests that pruning fruit trees with long-handled loppers could be handed over sooner rather than later too.
The perennial gardener will have favourites that they’d like to plant year after year. Can you help with the planting so they can do the tending? In my parents’ garden it is green beans, tomatoes and cosmos that have continued to give pleasure and picking for many years.
When getting down and dirty starts to be too arduous there’s a whole range of tools available to make the job easier. There are plenty of tools designed to make garden maintenance easier, such as standing weed pullers, or even four wheeled garden carts. Take a look at the website run by charity Thrive that offers advice for the disabled on useful tools to look for at the garden centre.
The effort that goes into a lawn depends completely upon the desires of the owner. Some may try to maintain the bowling green sward of their younger years while others just want a green patch that’s not too decimated by animals and dandelions. Mowing and maintaining lawns is hard work except for the smallest piece of green and it’s well worth finding a trustworthy gardener to take on the job.
If you’re not available to help or lack the required green thumbs then look around locally. There are basically two types of gardener: the wielders of sharp blades who can keep the grass low and the shrubs in check and the real plants-people who can help with planting and cherishing the flora. You’ll often find knowledgeable retired folk who have taken up offering garden services for enjoyment and to top up the pension. Hourly charges reflect both skills and where you are in the country and can vary wildly, so it’s well worth getting a few quotes.
Personal recommendation has to be a favourite but failing that you can try a local AgeUK group or local authority list. Ads in the local shops can be fruitful but obviously wherever you find a gardener they’ll need references, be able to demonstrate their skill, and turn up reliably.
Look at the surface of paths to check they don’t get slippery at any time of the year. Wood is wicked so keep an eye on decking. Algae and moss are dangers too. Even in the summer uneven surfaces are just waiting to be tripped over. And while you’re flattening the paths, take a look at the lawn as well to remove hidden potholes.
Just have more. Parents will enjoy somewhere to rest more often and just enjoy the view. Garden centres and online shops have a wide range of benches and garden chairs for the elderly.
With hot summers leading to hosepipe bans likely to be more common, it’s important to look at how precious planting can be kept alive. Carrying watering cans can become too hard a job. Perhaps you can set up water butts at strategic places to catch water from shed, garage and greenhouse roofs? Or if all else fails fill them yourself with the hose to last a while. These solutions do require forward thinking though – no use setting up a water butt when no rain is forecast for weeks.
Disposing of waste
Bonfires are frowned upon and compost heaps can be hard work. If your parent’s garden regularly produces a pile of green waste then why not investigate the local authority’s kerb side collection? The bags and bins can be quite heavy but if your parents can manage to put out their usual bins then a green waste bin that’s not full of soil should be fine.
If your parent is finding it hard to bend, kneel or walk it may be time for a complete re-think. Raised beds elevate the growing area and can help parents keep gardening for longer. If they’ve started to use a wheelchair then paths may needed to be widened. For those losing a sense bring in garden plants that heighten other senses, with wonderful scents and colours. The RHS plant selector is a good place to start. Bring sound to the garden by encouraging bird life or installing running or bubbling water. There are many garden designers around, so choose one that suits your parent’s style, and as with everything that changes, make sure your parent is happy.
If your parents have lost interest in gardening or have always found it a chore then look at ways to keep the space tidy without exertion. While there’s a great tendency to pave everything over nowadays it’s a good idea to consider where the rain will go once there’s no lawn or borders. Gravel might be a better solution to hard landscaping, but on the downside it could be hard to walk on and even with the best weedproof sheeting underneath weeds will raise their heads eventually.
Whether or not your parent still gardens they may still enjoy a visit to someone else’s. As well as the National Trust and RHS there are many local gardens available for a stroll and lunch. For anyone who likes to see what others are doing, the NGS Yellow Book lists private gardens open to the public on a few days a year.
If you found this article helpful, here are some more you might enjoy:
- Managing green waste to protect the environment
- 5 tips for creating a dementia-friendly garden
- Gardening and the older gardener
- Polytunnel growing guides