Gardeners are closely attuned to the natural cycles of birth and death, yet we can be slow to admit this basic truth: getting older means slowing down. This is not necessarily bad news, because in many ways slow gardening is better gardening. Instead of launching into big projects with boundless energy, we think them through carefully and accomplish them in stages. Instead of rushing through a project, we are more likely to mind the details, enjoy the work, and do a great overall job of things.
I’m an aging baby boomer myself, and early on I got lucky, because two of my early gardening mentors were in their eighties. They made vegetable gardening look so easy! Later I discovered some of their secrets in a little book by Jim Wilson, who hosted The Victory Garden on the Public Broadcasting System for ten years, and was loved by all who knew him. When he was 78, Jim wrote Gardening Through Your Golden Years, which is out of print but still available from used book dealers. It includes these tips for maximizing gardening’s benefits while avoiding pitfalls as you get older and wiser, but not as peppy – the current situation of the humongous baby boomer generation.
Age-proof Your Garden
1. Take more breaks to sit down and rest.
Have a chair ready in the shade where you can cool off or recover from the short-term exhaustion of hard work. If your resting spot is in full view of your garden, great! When you take time to relax and observe your garden at different times of day, you will be amazed at the wonders you’ve been missing by staying in constant motion between your beds or rows.
2. Keep your gardening tools small, simple and sharp.
Re-home tillers and power tools that are so big or heavy that you never use them, and replace them if possible with lightweight battery-powered models or hand tools. Sharpen blades regularly, because dull edges make you work much harder.
3. Leverage, don’t lift.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish with simple leverage, whether you are digging up tree stumps or prying out stones. When faced with any heavy-lifting task, see if there are ways you can pry up the thing, or roll where it needs to go. Then be realistic – if it feels too heavy or bulky for you to move by yourself, it probably is.
4. Raise plants higher.
Raised beds or planters become more attractive as you get older because they are so easy to manage, with fewer weeds and easy access to your plants in all types of weather.
5. Watch your footing.
Jim worried a lot about slipping on ice or snow, because he did not have a pair of Yaktrax, which are stretchy wire fittings you put over your shoes when you must cross an icy deck to fill the bird feeder. I absolutely depend on them in winter. If your slippery season is summer, pull-on cleats such as Turfgrabbers may be worth a try.
6. Protect yourself from sun and heat.
A wide-brimmed hat shades your head and cools your eyes, so it should be basic gardening gear on sunny days. In hot weather, limit hard work to early morning or evening, and stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
These strategies work for me, and when combined they may lead to a change in your garden’s size, composition or purpose. You might grow more of what’s easiest and most productive for you, and make fewer sowings of crops that require tedious special care. The older you get, the more important it is to grow what you love, too. This is no time to wait to follow your bliss.