Adapting a garden for older boomers |

Adapting a garden for older boomers

The problem of boomeritis is growing. It describes the effects of aging on this most active generation in American history. Arthritis and deteriorating joints from a lifetime of sports and exercise is forcing boomers to face their growing limitations. For avid gardeners, surrendering their passion isn’t an option. Instead they’re seeking ways to make their garden more comfortable, safe and accessible during those golden years.Proper redesign of a current garden or creation of a new landscape can integrate simple, but effective techniques for making it more senior friendly. Gardening assisted by a walker or wheelchair requires special site planning to ensure it is easy and comfortable to negotiate. Inability to stoop or kneel presents other problems too. Weak or unsteady limbs can make simple tasks both difficult and dangerous. Good design can solve many of these problems and the techniques below will keep senior fingers in the dirt for many years to come.Ramps Not StepsStairs eliminate wheelchair access and some walkers too. In senior friendly gardens, gentle ramps take up grade instead of steps. The maximum wheelchair ramp slope ratio is 1:12, which means one foot of fall for every 12 linear feet of ramp. Walkways must be a minimum of three feet wide. TIP: For more information on minimum dimensions for wheelchairs, railings and other useful criteria, consult the Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines at Grab Bars and HandrailsUnsteady users need all the support they can get. Installing attractive handrails at ramps and other strategic points throughout the garden will greatly increase safety. The proper size for such a railing is 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Smooth, solid paving flagstones, gravel and decomposed granite as well as irregular surface elevation can be a serious challenge to foot traffic and impossible for wheelchairs. To avoid slips and facilitate use of the surface by those with a cane, crutches or a walker, create solid paving with a rough but even surface texture.Seatwalls and raised beds bringing the garden up with raised beds eliminates stooping or bending. It is essential for wheelchair gardeners who can’t reach the ground. Raised beds created with solid concrete block walls can become a convenient seat as well. Walls elevated to about 2 feet tall with a foot-wide smooth cap on top offer a perfect seating area to relieve tired legs while seniors garden in comfort. Raised beds should be filled with high quality organic soil that is easy to work. These soils release weeds and accept a trowel far more readily than native soil. Lots of hose bibs dragging hoses is tough enough for a young person, but it’s a struggle for anyone with arthritis. New gardens can be plumbed with extra hose bibs conveniently located near intensive gardening areas to allow easy access to water. Short lightweight hoses are gentle on stiff fingers.Automatic sprinklers on a time clock relieve seniors of the drudgery of watering and ensure their herbs and roses grow vigorously with next to no effort.Older gardeners are generally concerned about too much exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays. Older bodies do not regulate temperature as efficiently as young ones. Creating shaded spots around the garden with comfortable seating and safe accessibility allows them convenient resting places.Gardening is one of the healthiest activities for seniors. It gets them out into the sunshine and fresh air. The bending and stretching of gardening activities helps to maintain flexibility and range of motion. Gardening increases strength and endurance, as well as mitigates some effects of osteoporosis.As boomeritis afflicts more and more of the newly retired, they will be forced to rethink many ordinary tasks and activities. There is no reason to give up on life long passions, but perhaps altering how they are done will allow them to continue for years to come. And for those in denial, clip this article and put it away for the near future when boomeritis strikes and nature suggests all too painfully that you slow down.Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of “Weekend Gardening” on DIY Network. Contact her at her Web site or visit

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