Tips for the older gardener
Gardeners are a hardy and determined bunch. However, despite the fact that we may be reasonably sprightly now, the inevitability of aging is a natural part of life. There’s no need to panic though, as with a bit of careful planning, many people manage to adapt and keep on gardening well into older age. It’s certainly worth starting to plan as early as you can for a fulfilling, gardening future.
Getting someone else to do the heavy jobs is one of the obvious answers, but not everyone can afford to do that. And finding a good professional gardener who knows the difference between a weed and a wisteria can be a minefield. Try asking around and see if anyone you know has found someone good to help them. As a rule of thumb, in this part of the country you should be paying from around £10 an hour for the basics, to between £15 and £20 an hour for a qualified, horticulturally trained gardener.
Growing in containers set at a manageable height is the usual recommendation for those who may have to contend with a reduction in mobility, or life in a smaller residence. Most plants are reasonably adaptable, as long as you remember to water them regularly. Clean, used plastic milk bottles make handy watering cans, and if you still want to use the real thing, plastic watering cans are lighter than metal ones.
Regular feeding will also help containerised plants, and it’s a good idea to remove the top few inches of old compost every spring, replacing it with fresh material. Soil-based composts weigh more, but are the best for containers, so for plants which are going to spend many years with their roots confined, choose a John Innes No 3. For everyday use, John Innes No 2 will be sufficient, and can
be mixed with a more general multipurpose for economy.
Hydrangeas should do well in pots, as will herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme and chives. Even if you are unable to use herbs for cooking, they are easy to grow, and you can let them flower to attract bees. Scented plants will add an extra dimension to a container garden too, and lavender is one of the easiest for a sunny spot, as long as the compost is free draining. The magnificently perfumed purple heliotrope can be added to a seasonal display of annual bedding plants, while in deeper containers, you could grow sweet peas on a tripod of canes.
We’re always being told that raised beds are a good idea for the less mobile gardener. They’ll certainly bring things up to a manageable working height, and if constructed from sturdy wooden sleepers, will give you somewhere to sit and work from too. They aren’t cheap to make, as untreated sleepers (which won’t release toxins into the soil) can cost anything from £26-£45 each, depending on whether you choose pine or oak. As they weigh a ton, bear in mind the cost of delivery too. You’ll almost certainly have to buy in some additional topsoil and compost, so all in all, if you’re planning to go down this route, it might be worth starting to plan and budget now.
On the subject of how many sleepers to use, for one bed approximately 60cms high you’ll need a minimum of six, using half pieces for the ends, so that you can reach the middle of the bed without having to stretch. They should be fixed securely together with bolts or metal pins.
There are many tools available to help the determined gardener. Wolf Garten make a range of lightweight implements, and many garden centres carry aluminium handled tools too. An excellent selection of British-made tools with arm support cuffs and easy-grip handles are available from Peta (01376 573476, www.peta-uk.com).
Thrive, the national charity which helps people with a disability to start or continue gardening has an easy to use website(www. carry on gardening. org.uk/shop/) where you can find advice and sources of recommended tools for almost every garden task.
One of the most useful pieces of equipment for the maturingyet-mobile gardener is a kneeler with handles. I’ve been using one of these for years. It doubles as a seat, so when I’ve had enough of kneeling, I can turn it upside down and enjoy a well-earned rest.
Hydrangeas should do well in pots.
We are all getting older, even us hardy gardeners. But there is no need to panic as Charlotte Philcox explains.
Lavender will attract butterflies and is one of the easiest scented plants to grow