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HomeBecome an Enabled Gardener

Become an Enabled Gardener

Contributed by Rae Davis, Master Gardener


Gardening is a year-round for people of all ages and abilities. About 90 percent of the people in the United States have done some gardening, whether it’s growing flowers on a city windowsill or farming potatoes on 20 acres. The French Impressionist painter Claude Monet was an avid gardener who had trouble with his eyesight and eventually had cataract surgery in his 70s. This did not stop him from painting or gardening.


Although horticultural therapy has been around for more than 50 years, adaptive gardening is becoming increasingly popular. Many senior centers have classes on adaptive gardening. And garden clubs often look to adaptive gardening to keep aging members involved.


You may need adaptive tools and ways to water easily. So-called “ergonomic” gardening tools are not all the same, nor will they necessarily be best for you. What you want to look for are tools that allow you to garden without stressing your hands, wrists, neck or back.


That means selecting hand tools light enough for your wrist to maintain in a neutral position, for example. Some inexpensive lightweight gardening tools are sold in discount stores and multiple-item pharmacies. I have a tote I use to carry small tools with longer handles that don’t push into the palm of my hand, along with small pruning shears and scissors to cut flowers. These are useful for indoor and outdoor gardening.


You can grow flowers, herbs and even vegetables in large pots. Some large plastic pots look much like terracotta but are light and easier to move. Place two to three cups of styrofoma packing peanuts in the bottom of the pot before filling it with soil

Raised beds work well for people in wheelchairs and people with bad backs. A wheelchair accessible bed should be high enough for the gardener to reach comfortably into the bed and spaced far enough apart for moving back and forth. (What’s recommended?) Taking into account how far a person can reach, a two foot-wide bed works well for most.


Plants are a feast for the senses: color, texture and scent. Vision-inpaired people can enjoy the velvety touch of lamb’s-ears (Stachys olympica) and the feather touch of yarrow (Achillea). Countless plants, including lemon balm (Labiatae), the many mints, and scented geraniums have enticing scents.


Gardening should be relaxing and healing. I want gardening to be the pleasure for you that it has for me for so many years. As my abilities changed, I found new ways to adapt my gardening. Let’s make gardening fun, and learn to become an enabled gardener.


©2021 Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association