dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Don’t let your passions fade away: Adapt & grow forward (A Lesson from Adaptive Gardening)

For many, chronic pain causes physical limitations and takes away our ability to do certain activities we used to do with ease. Hobbies we formerly enjoyed with no restrictions will often be extremely difficult to continue doing - and of course, we may have to accept that we might never be able to undertake them in exactly the same way we did before.

However, if we think creatively and plan carefully, it is possible to find new or modified ways to keep doing them. It can be an emotional issue when we are forced to accept changes, but if we just let it go we can allow ourselves to find the joy which is within our grasp.

Truly anything is possible if you don’t let yourself be convinced otherwise. I’ve seen the proof: I just read an article about a 10-year-old boy without hands who won a penmanship award and also creates comic strips. Who would think this boy would able to write at all, let alone write and draw with great skill? You can read about him HERE

With a spirit like his, we too can find ways to circumvent our physical restrictions and adapt.

Obviously, gardening is a great passion of mine and I use it often in this blog as a metaphor for living with chronic pain. I am not trying to convert all of you into gardeners though I think you would certainly benefit (and with the price of food these days it can certainly help a household budget). However, I want to share the ideas and methods I myself use so you can see that with a little research and ingenuity, you do not have to give up your passions, either.

So let’s talk about Adaptive Gardening...

Gardening can be a very physical hobby depending on what you grow and how involved you get. It’s a great way to get a little physical therapy, though you should always consult your medical team with regard to any physical activity. Even if you are in a wheelchair, are blind, or no matter what your limitations are, there are ways you too can be a gardener!

Here I am enjoying the Ranunculus on my deck.

Gardening does not always mean spending hours in the hot sun digging holes in the ground. You can go big or keep it small. You might choose to grow plants exclusively for food or you can use flowers like paint and create a landscape of blended colors and shapes. 

Consider these: 

-Cooking herbs and some types of plants & flowers can be grown indoors in a deep window sill, on a table top, or even in a hanging pot.

-Pots or planter boxes outdoors can be set on a table or attached to a deck railing to raise flowers or vegetables to a height that allows you to tend them while standing or sitting in a chair.

-Raised beds are a great choice for those who cannot easily bend or are wheelchair bound but still want a large gardening area. Find out more about them here: Types of Raised Beds

-Another really neat choice is a vertical garden, which is an attractive way to bring plants closer to a seated or standing-only gardener. It’s a very unique look and makes a great focal point. You can read more here: Vertical Beds (Walls, Trellises and Arbors)


*Have a Plan Before You Start
It’s easy to get caught up with the ‘gardening bug’ and just attack the first thing you see and keep on going. If it’s time to plant seeds, then focus on that job and make a note of what needs to be done next time. If your flowers desperately need fertilizing and weeding, start there. Take into account which jobs are the biggest priority at the moment.

*Pace Yourself
It doesn’t matter whether you are gardening, doing your housecleaning, or cooking... do not forget to pace yourself! Instead of pushing yourself to weed the whole garden, think of it in sections and stop to rest often or divide the project over several days. If you have a hard time making yourself stop once you get started, use a timer so you can’t say you didn’t know how much time had passed!

*Don’t Do One Activity For Too Long
Give your body a little break by shifting positions, changing hands, or taking a moment to stretch a little every so often. It helps to relieve strain which builds up when we get into repetitive actions.

*Use the Right Tools for the Right Job
Don’t try to use a hoe when you need a shovel. There are lots of ergonomic tools manufactured especially for people like us. I have a pair of ergonomic clippers that I couldn’t live without. They give me the extra cutting pressure I need with my weak hands. I also have a reversable bench that I can sit on or turn over and have a kneeler with handles to push up against. Most garden supply companies offer such items.

*Lighten the Load Where You Can
If you have a good-sized garden, why use to hose for watering and force yourself to stand for a long time? You can install a drip system with a timer; or find someone who can do it for you. Don’t leave your tools in the garage and make multiple trips back and forth to get what you need and wear yourself out. Instead, use a garden wagon to keep everything you need with you. Consider the projects on your to-do list and find a different technique or product to help ease the strain on your body.

*Have Fun!
Paint a few pots with a bright colors or silly patterns and set them around. Add some eccentric garden art. Put something unexpected in your garden that makes you smile when you see it. Choose a theme for certain sections of garden, like jungle or desert or seaside, and add items that enhance the theme.

For more ideas and tips on how to manage your physical issues while gardening, check out these links:

-If you suffer from asthma, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a garden. Go here: Asthma Friendly Gardens


On a trip to Oregon I discovered a truly remarkable garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the information about it where it is located and the exact name. But what a special place! It was a Sense Garden.

It was walled on all sides and had meandering paths that made it impossible to see ahead, which gave it a sense of mystery and anticipation. Everything was chosen to appeal to all of the human senses, making it the perfect type of garden for those with disabilities.

The pathway was wide and paved and the garden beds were raised so that anyone in a wheelchair could go through and get close to the plants. 

For the hearing impaired/deaf, many plants and flowers were ...

mixed in vivid, contrasting groupings in beds and pots to draw the eye. Interspersed throughout were many pieces of intriguing, humorous, and elegant garden art. 

For the visually impaired/blind, the sound of running water came from fountains & waterfalls. There were delicate wind chimes hanging all about and plants chosen for the sounds they make, like certain grasses that rustle in the breeze.

For everyone, fragrant and heavily-scented flowers and herbs where planted all about. Some plants were meant to be touched to enjoy their texture, and placed close to the path to make it easy to reach them. There were a few fruits available to taste and a few flavorful herbs. 

It was such a fascinating place! If you are interested in the idea of a Sense Garden, here’s a link to a website which has a list of suggested plants to use. Go here: Gardening for the Senses

"Like a big mountain, a small garden stimulates, restores, and delights us, just as it poses challenges, promotes mastery, provides exercise and relieves monotony."
~ The Power of Place, Winifred Gallagher

I’m lucky. Although my physical limitations prevent me from working with plants at ground level, I’m blessed to have family that helps me out with the stuff I can’t do. Without their aid, I wouldn’t be able to have my gorgeous dahlias, or tomatoes, or even to manage to water and weed the flower pots of various sizes I have everywhere about.

I respect my body by not pushing it too far. Though I miss not being able to do all the work myself or to garden at any time I like, I am still able to enjoy growing and nurturing plants and flowers. I grow most of them from seed under my grow light set-up in the kitchen. I ask someone to lift up pots on to a table so I can do work on them or create new plant arrangements. I aid our food budget by growing tomatoes in the ground and in pots; spinach, yams, and carrots in planter boxes on my deck; and sometimes where I can fit them in I’ll do zucchini, beans, squash - and I even grew my own loofahs one year and them as Christmas gifts! 

I take cuttings from my current plants and grow new ones to keep or give away to friends. I love making themed fantasy gardens in a single pot, like one I call ‘Under the Sea’ and another which is a desert landscape that won first prize at the County Fair several years ago. I have a cool carnivorous plant arrangement which is not only exotic and interesting to look at, but helps controls keeps aphids, mosquitoes, and other pests from eating my plants or bothering us. I enjoy making artful things or finding items to add to the beauty of my garden. 

I’m not the gardener I was before but  I *am* still a gardener. My joy and passion are no less.  Find a way to keep your passion, too!

For more excellent articles on Adaptive Gardening, don’t miss these sites:

1 comment:

  1. Hubby has been toiling and tiling in the garden this week...Roto Tilling is hard enough on a healthy body go get help with the hard stuff.



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