Improving Your Garden Lighting

Nothing beats a summer evening outdoors, unless lighting is inadequate or nonexistent. Garden lighting should be part of every design – especially for the senior gardener. Poorly lit garden paths are dangerous for everyone. It’s so easy to misstep on a poorly lit path. While such an incident may result in a minor bump for the younger family members, the result for older members could be broken bones, a concussion or worse. Our bones grow more brittle as we age.

If your garden paths are lined with solar powered stake lights, consider replacing them with low voltage stake lights. They’re brighter. They can be controlled, and they turn on even when the sun wasn’t out that day. Low voltage lights are connected by wires to a box plugged into an outlet rated for outdoor use. You can buy control boxes with on/off timers that will allow you to control what time they turn on and off, rather being on from dusk to dawn.

You may also want motion detector activated lights in key locations in your garden. Spot or floodlights may be needed for security or to light the area when you want to work out there in the evening. Some lights may be located in trees angled down to the area you want lit.

It’s a good idea to light the perimeter of your patio to reduce the chance of coming too close to the edge and slipping off. Even if a planting bed is at the same level as the patio pavers, the difference in texture can cause a senior gardener to lose their balance and fall.

You’ll surely want a variety of lighting on the patio to illuminate your various activities in that outdoor room. This may be a series of strategically placed floods attached to the house and hardwired to switches. Or they may be lower intensity lamps placed where needed. For example, you’ll need to light the grill or outdoor kitchen, the dining area and the sitting areas where you relax and read or watch television. Yes, television. They make TVs that are protected for outdoor use. Some even retract into a protective cabinet.

It’s not a good idea to just start hanging lights and hope they do what they’re supposed to. It’ll save time and money to try various portable lights in different positions to be sure they can be aimed correctly than to go right to the permanent installation. Be sure all outlets are GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) units. These have a built-in circuit breaker that will shut them off if they get wet, rather than shocking you.

If you have a water feature consider lighting it, especially if it’s a pond. Ponds can be lit for effect with LED lights that change color and reflect in the water. You also have to consider safety. A pond is another of those garden features that can be dangerous for seniors. Inadequate or non-existent lighting could result in your getting disoriented and falling in. Like all hazards, the results can be worse for seniors than younger adults. Fountains aren’t as hazardous as a pond but would look nice with lights playing off the rising plume of water.

Actually, I place lighting installation in the same category as tree work. For your health and safety, it’s best left to the pros. Sure, you can locate where you need lights and then hire a licensed electrician to install them. Or you can work with a landscape professional or outdoor lighting contractor to design and install all the outdoor lighting where in will be the most beneficial.

The takeaway from this is that it’s dangerous for senior gardeners to be in an unlit garden. There are too many hazards that can put your gardening on hold for long convalescences. Super adequate lighting should be at the top of every senior gardener’s adaptive gardening plan.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Garden Whimsy Can Be Fun

One dictionary definition of whimsy is playful, quaint or fanciful behavior. If this describes your personality, why not let it shine in your garden? Whimsy is different for everyone. Don’t force it. Use whatever strikes your fancy. Remember, the object of gardening is to have fun.

The big, green frog, in the picture above, makes you stop and look when walking through a garden in Pennsylvania. If you stop at the right spot, it even talks to you. We entered that garden through a brightly painted door in a door frame, rather than through the traditional garden gate. It was like something from a Lewis Carroll book. (He wrote Alice in Wonderland.)

The photos of whimsical sculptures on a fence was taken in a small space, senior garden in Delaware. And the dandelion farm sign was taken in my back yard. I found it in a souvenir shop in Niagara Falls, Ontario and moved it around the yard to the various beds that needed weeding. It gave me an excuse to put off weeding. When the summer sun faded the letters so it couldn’t be read, though, it didn’t have the same effect. So, it went into the recycling. Who knows what it’s doing now.

Your sense of humor may be more along the lines of a simple garden gnome or a metal sculpture. Or maybe a bottle tree. Felder Rushing, who wrote one of my favorite books, Slow Gardening, also wrote one about bottle trees. 

Last but not least is the concrete statue of a pudgy, little  sea captain is in my back yard. I guess he could be considered a caricature of me. He’s built like me and my signature headgear is a Greek fisherman’s cap. (Check it out on the cover of my book.)

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Allergy Season Is Here

Beautiful flowers can aggravate allergies.

There are food allergies, medical allergies, environmental (seasonal) allergies and even allergies to certain materials like latex. As gardeners, we will only concern ourselves with environmental allergies here. Those include such things as pollen, dust, pet dander, mold and mildew.

You may be saying, “I’m too old for allergies. That just happens to children, and some of them grow out of them.” I’m here to tell you that your assumption is wrong. I developed environmental allergies at age 50 and have been getting those dreaded injections ever since.  Doctors will tell you that you can develop environmental allergies at any age.

My allergies were discovered when I would wake up during the night, unable to breathe. We liked to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows on nice spring and summer nights. The doctor sent me to an allergist who did the tests where they prick you with needles containing potential allergens and then checks for a reaction. This test can’t be done on people taking certain classes of medication, however.

I recommend seeking medical attention but there is one home remedy that we all have become very familiar with over the past year. That’s wearing a mask. My neighbor has worn a mask when mowing his lawn and tending to his landscape for as long as I have lived here. Obviously, it helps relive his allergy symptoms.

The reason I’m writing about allergies now is that pollen is one of the most frequent irritants, especially among gardeners. As plants begin to bloom, pollen begins to blow around. I know birds and bees carry pollen but so does the wind. There are places where pollen gets so thick that cars, patio furniture and everything else is covered with it. That much pollen didn’t fall from pollinators’ feet.

When pollen in the air gets thick enough to impair your breathing, even with a mask, consider your health first and postpone your gardening. Stay indoors for the day. Hopefully, you have air conditioning. The gardening work you had planned will still be there tomorrow.

Allergies aren’t something to be minimized or rationalized by senior gardeners. They are something to get under control professionally as soon as possible. Until then, use a mask and retreat indoors. Gardening is to be enjoyed, not a time for suffering.

There’s more on allergies on page 44 of my book, The Geriatric Gardener – Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Advice For Professional Gardeners

Are you a professional gardener looking to add a new profit center to your business? May I suggest marketing your services to senior gardeners? Part of the adaptive gardening process is to ask for help, rather than to attempt a challenging task that could result in injury.

Senior gardeners know what they want and will want to work with you. You’ll find them very knowledgeable, too. Most are long time gardeners for whom age has caught up. The most common problems they are experiencing are worn out knees and backs. As a result, they’re looking for help with the heavy lifting and tiring jobs like weeding that are best done on their knees. You won’t be rushed because another adaptive gardening recommendations is that seniors take frequent breaks.

Some areas of the country have plenty of gardening services but many others, including where I Iive, have few or none. We have many landscaping companies and mowing services but not gardening services. If you’re wondering what the difference is between a gardener and a landscaper, I once read that a gardener has dirty knees and a landscaper smells of gasoline. This means that a gardener does more light work that can be done with hand tools while the landscaper does heavier work in which power tools make the job much easier. 

To the production-oriented landscaper, especially the mowers, a gardening client might seem very demanding. That’s because they know what they want and would rather be doing it themselves if they were able. Many are on fixed incomes and can’t afford the higher rates that landscapers have to charge to cover their higher overhead. However, you may make a friend for life who will tell their friends about your wonderful service. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising and can lead to more customers.

Whenever I write about the need for professional gardeners to help seniors, I have to illustrate it with the photo above because I don’t have any photos of a real person. It’s a statue of a gardener trimming a hedge. Hopefully, this will start you thinking and I can get a photo of you working side-by-side with an appreciative senior gardener. The photo was taken in 2005 at Minter Gardens,  near Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada This public garden is now closed because the owner retired.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Out With The Old Tools, In With The New, Ergonomic Tools

As you prepare for the upcoming gardening season, take a few minutes and check out your tools. Are they still comfortable? Or are they too heavy, difficult to wrap your arthritic fingers around the handles, or is your wrist uncomfortable grasping them?

Tools that leave you in pain don’t have to be one of the crosses senior gardeners have to bear. Many manufacturers now offer ergonomically designed tools made of lightweight materials. Perhaps it’s time to invest in such a set.

Long handle tools like shovels, rakes and hoes have lightweight metal blades, tines and whatever is on the business end. The handles are made of fiberglass that’s lightweight yet durable. Many handles are  made of brightly colored fiberglass, making them easy to find in the garden. The bright colors can also remind you to take the tools back to the shed or garage when you’re finished gardening for the day. 

If you have trouble grasping the handles with arthritic fingers, look for foam clad handles and you’ll find them easier to grasp. If you can’t find foam clad handles, buy pipe insulation, slip it on to the handles and secure the foam to the fiberglass with appropriately colored duct tape. Check out other aids that may be more comfortable, too. I’m thinking of a grip that clamps on to the handle.

Gripping small tools like trowels can be uncomfortable and lead to carpal tunnel syndrome because your wrist is turned in an unnatural position. This can be minimized with a trowel that you grasp naturally (see photo). Tools like trowels , rakes and weeders are sold in this style. You can also buy a clamp-on attachment to retrofit your old favorite.

Cutting tools like pruners, loppers and hedge trimmers may be difficult for you to operate. In that case, look into new models with mechanical assists. For example, you can buy pruners that ratchet. Squeeze them until they resist, let up on them and they’ll reset for you to squeeze again. Loppers and hedge clippers are available in lightweight material with gears in the scissor mechanism that make cutting branches almost as easy as cutting butter.

These tools are available at garden centers that sell tools, at home centers and online. If you plan to buy online, I recommend that you check them out at a local retailer first. Handle them in the store to be sure they do what you want them to do and that they are comfortable. Doing that now will give you plenty of time to assemble a new set of tools before you need them.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Getting In Shape Now For The Gardening Season

To some, gardening may be exercise enough.  But that’s not what fitness experts say. They advise us to do stretching exercises before we start gardening and cooling off exercises when we’re finished. If that’s not part of your routine, you have the rest of the winter to develop a routine.

I wouldn’t try going it alone. If you’re a member of a gym, you might ask one of the trainers for appropriate exercises. If you’re under doctors’ care, ask them. A doctor will probably write a physical therapy requisition. The physical therapist will, most likely, have you come to the office to determine your fitness, have you practice exercises in the office and then give you instructions for doing the exercises at home.

By visiting the doctors and physical therapist now, during the winter, you’ll have finished all the diagnoses, practiced the exercises and be all ready to incorporate them into your gardening routine. I’m emphasizing the doctor/physical therapy route because gyms may still be closed in your area. Also, as a senior gardener, I rely more on professionals like doctors and physical therapists. I don’t want to exacerbate the problems I already have or create new ones. I definitely wouldn’t advise doing exercises you read about in a book. The exercises that may work well for the author may be all wrong for our aging body.

You may still be asking why you need to exercise if you’re going to garden. Gardeners use muscles in pursuit of their hobby that they may not use in any other activity. That’s why it’s good to stretch those muscles and limber them up with light exercise before starting the real exertion. I’m not suggesting that gardening’s a form of athletics but it’s worthy of note that athletes warm up before their performances. 

If you’re still skeptical, just think back to your last gardening session. It was probably quite demanding like cleaning up leaves. How were your shoulder, arm, neck and leg muscles. Sore? That’s probably because they were tight when started working. You’ll be surprised when you loosen them up before starting work and cool them down when finished. 

If you’re worried about breaking the bank, check with your health insurance provider. Many Medicare supplement plans pay for a specific number of PT sessions or a certain number of weeks. You may need to pay a copay but it’s worth it to be sure the exercises are specific to your needs and physical condition.  Some plans pay for your gym membership, too. This is much better than doing generic exercises that could do more harm than good. The therapist may also give you daily exercises that will help you feel better, even on days when you’re not gardening.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Organizing A Senior Garden Party

A garden party is generally thought of as strictly a social event but in areas where professional gardeners are in short supply or priced out of reach, why not consider combining the social with needed work activities? It would be the ultimate adaptive gardening effort.

I’m sure many of you belong to at least one garden club. It may be presumptuous, but I would think most of the members are in the same age group. Clubs usually attract like minded people. 

Many garden clubs have been meeting for many years. As you’ve aged, you’ve probably shared your physical challenges as they present themselves. Instead of just moaning and groaning at meetings, why not support each other by pooling your abilities to help each other? By planning in the winter, you’ll be all ready to make it happen in the spring.

At this point, this is only an idea. I envision members discussing gardening tasks they ‘re having trouble with and can’t find anyone to help them. Members then offer help within their comfort zone and capabilities, and they schedule a garden party at one member’s home. Everyone arrives at the appointed time dressed to work and bringing with them any aids they use in their own gardens. 

The group works on the designated project all morning and when it’s lunch time, the host serves a delicious lunch. The host, no doubt, wants to participate in the work activity so they should choose a menu in which most of the preparation can be done ahead of time, leaving only last minute cooking, possibly on the grill, at lunch time. You could also get take out from a restaurant. Since the Covid restrictions, most restaurants offer delivery and/or curbside pick up.

Following an enjoyable, leisurely lunch, the group can spend the afternoon socializing, tying up any loose ends remaining on the project, or packing it in for the day.  This can be repeated as often as members need help and the group is able and willing to help. Hopefully quarantine restrictions will be eased and a vaccine will be available to seniors by then. If not, consider it when the pandemic is over and it’s safe to do so.

This isn’t a new idea or a great epiphany on my part. Groups of farm families have been getting together like this for barn raisings for years. I’ve also heard of farmers getting together informally to harvest a sick or injured farmer’s crops for him. Why can’t it work for senior gardeners, too?

I use the photo below whenever I need to illustrate a  professional gardener because where I live, in New York State’s Finger Lakes area, real ones just aren’t available. There are plenty of landscape professionals but few gardeners. If you’re curious about the statue’s location, it’s in British Columbia. Canada at a now closed public garden called Minter Garden.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Let Nature Take Its Course

When planning for the 2021 growing season, your goal should be to make gardening simpler and easier. One way to do that is to let nature take its course. It was OK to formalize your garden when you had all the pain-free energy in the world. But now that you have to budget that energy, let Mother Nature help. And Mother Nature will only help if you do it her way.

I’ll bet Mother Nature isn’t as fussy as you are about how straight the rows are. Or whether plants are growing there that you didn’t plant. Call them weeds or call them volunteers, you didn’t plant them. Unless they’re noxious weeds or aggressively invasive, let them grow for a season. If you absolutely can’t live with your new plants, you can muster some help next season to pull them out. Keep in mind that these new plants cost you nothing in time or money.

Your garden doesn’t have to resemble the Palace of Versailles to look nice and draw compliments. In fact, formal gardens are out of vogue these days. The more natural look is in style. If you take a walk in the woods and the trees are all in straight lines, that forest was planted by humans. In a natural forest, seeds germinate where they drop. Although some gardeners would refer to that as messy, I like to refer to it as random planting.

My back yard has a hill with a plateau, a line of trees separating me from a cornfield, which doubles as a favorite goose hunting site for my neighbors and others who follow the flock (or more precisely, the gaggle). When the house was built, I had the builder grade the hill to be landscaped but left the plateau and line of trees natural.

The photo below was taken shortly after the hill was landscaped. Each year, for the first 10 years or so, I diligently weeded and trimmed the shrubs. It was planted mostly in juniper and Korean lilacs with a false cypress for accent on one side. A couple of potentilla take the eye across the rock drainage swale to a row of potentilla forming a screen near the lot line. We did the same thing with ornamental grass on the other side. 

After the first decade, my knee made climbing and working on the hill difficult. Besides, the row of junipers midway up the hill had formed a wall so nothing except the Korean lilacs were visible above the junipers. That led to my weeding only below the line of junipers. Today, my gardener weeds only the little area between the plants and the swale, and he removes some vines growing there. Quite frankly, I prefer the natural look in the top photo.

This is just one example of naturalization. Originally, a line of spirea followed the curvature of the sidewalk but they overgrew the sidewalk every summer and had to be cut back. They’ve since been replaced by a row of compact boxwoods. Don’t be afraid to replace plants that don’t behave and require more work than you want to give them.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

New Years Activity: Start Making Your Adaptive Gardening Plan For 2021

The holidays are behind us but several more months of winter still lie ahead. There’s no gardening work to be done. No snow or ice removal that you should be doing. So, what’s a senior gardener to do to keep their green thumb from getting itchy? My suggestion: Start planning for this spring.

While you’re browsing seed catalogs, gardening magazines and the internet, also look inward to determine how you’ll need to adapt this season. You’ll be a step ahead if you decide what changes you’ll need to make, get the material and do any assembly or fabrication that you can do inside.

Start with a self Question & Answer session. This will give you the direction you need to take.

• Question: It’s starting to hurt when I kneel to garden. What can I do?

Answer: It’s time to get padding for the knees or a gardening seat. Raised beds are becoming popular with senior gardeners because they can work sitting down. You might even look into vertical gardens if you are able to garden standing up.  

• Question: I’m planning a major garden renovation; how can I prepare for the future?

Answer: Begin by redesigning your paths and walkways, making them wider and smoother with gentle slopes instead of steps. You’ll then be prepared if you need a walker or wheelchair, either permanently or when recovering from joint replacement surgery. Raised beds should also be considered.

• Question: Tasks like dividing perennials are getting too difficult for me. What should I do?

Answer: Get family, a friend or a landscape professional to help for the short term. For the long term, consider replacing the perennials with shrubs. They require less care. Choose flowering shrubs or place containers of annuals in the same beds.

• Question: My tools are getting too difficult to use. What alternatives are available.

Answer: Ergonomic trowels and other small tools are available. Trade your larger, wood handled, heavy shovels, rakes and hoes in for lightweight models. Their fiberglass handles make them easy to use and their brightly colored handles make them hard to forget when you’re ready to leave the garden. 

• Question: How can I hold gardening tools with arthritic fingers?

Answer: Get the tools with foam sleeves for a better grip or make your own sleeves with pipe insulation that you can buy at home centers.

• Question: How can I continue gardening when I tire so easily?

Answer: Make sure you have a shady spot, near where you’ll be working, to sit, rest and hydrate. Begin with the most strenuous activity. As soon as you start to get tired, go to your rest area for awhile. When you’re done resting, go to a less strenuous activity. Continue this work, rest routine until your body tells you to call it a day. Plan your tasks so they’re less and less strenuous as the day goes on.

Starting to plan now will give you plenty of time to get your ducks in a row before the season rather than having to spend time adapting in the spring when your garden is crying for attention.

If you want more details on the answer to any of these questions, they’re all in my book, The Geriatric Gardener Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors. Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order a copy.

A Little T-Shirt Philosophy To Share

As we settle in to winter, I hope you use the time wisely – to relax and enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor. I feel like using some of it to sit and think philosophically, which is unusual for me.

It all started when a t-shirt ad popped up on Facebook. I don’t usually respond to ads on Facebook because they don’t always come through with the merchandise. But the saying on the shirt spoke to me. It summed up the attitude all senior gardeners should have. It says, “Never underestimate an old man who loves to garden and was born in November.”

When the shirt didn’t arrive in time for a family event, I went to the t-shirt drawer to find my previously favorite philosophical shirt.  It would also make a statement. It says, “All I need to know about life,  I learned from a tree” and then lists the following  on the front and back:

• It’s important to have roots.

• Expand your destiny, spread out.

• Don’t wither away over old flames. 

• If you really believe in something, don’t be afraid to go out on a limb.

• When life gets stormy, be flexible, so you don’t break.

• Sometimes you have to shed your old bark In order to grow.

• If you want order in your life, keep a log.

• Sometimes you just gotta be a nut.

• Grow where you’re planted.

• It’s perfectly okay to be a late bloomer.

• Avoid people who would like to cut you down.

• Get all spruced up and go to the beech.

• Rather than abuse a tree, just leaf.

• Be sure to cover your bare ash in turmoil.

• As you approach the autumn of your life, show your true colors.

• It’s more important to be honest than poplar.

But alas the ravages of time had taken their toll. Not on the shirt but on me. It was only a large. I guess I’d lost track of time. But I wanted to share this take off on Robert Fulghum’s 1986 book,  All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, with you before I put it in the Good Will bag.My wish is for you to have a safe and happy holiday season in this most unusual year, and that you’ll be ready to return to the garden at the first hint of spring. Meanwhile,  I’ll be back to writing about how we senior gardeners can have fun and still be safe simply by adapting to our changing physical capabilities.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.