Friday, March 13, 2009

Gardening with Disabilities

I am disabled, and as such gardening sometimes presents problems for me. I am unable to use a regular shovel or do anything labor intensive. It's my back, with my L spine being the worst. I have nerve damage going down my left leg and right arm, so both are weak. However, I have found a few ways around these problems that I'd like to share.
Gardening is one of the best forms of therapy there is, both physically and emotionally. Just being outside digging in the dirt eases stress and makes me feel better. After a day of working in the garden, I am often hurting but I feel satisfied that I've accomplished things.
One thing that I struggle with is trying to keep myself from doing too much. I sometimes feel overwhelmed at the prospect of everything I want to do in my gardens. My goal is to turn the entire yard into gardens, but I have to go slowly. I expand my gardens a little more each year, adding new beds and varieties. That is the first thing - you have to pace yourself. Stop and rest often and don't get discouraged. Since I cannot use a large shovel, this is how I start new beds. I put plastic down to smother out the grass, usually in fall, so by Spring it is dead. Then I can sit on the ground so I'm not bending, and scrape up the dirt and roots of the grass. I have a hand held shovel that I use for planting, again, sitting on the ground. If you are able to, you may want to use a low bench to sit on, but that is too much bending for me. It would be easier to use a vegetation killer, but I do not use any chemicals in my yard and I wouldn't have it any other way. By growing organically, you can nurture the earth and its creatures instead of poisoning them. This year I'm going to try lasagna gardening. Lasagna gardening is a no dig method of gardening where you layer cardboard, compost and newspaper to build beds. Those I've spoken to who have used this method have had success with it, and there are several books on the subject that you might want to look up.
Speaking of compost, I keep a compost pile and use that and mulch on my beds to help keep the weeds down. I learned long ago not to stress myself out over weeds in my garden beds. This also helps with watering, as dragging a hose around the yard can be quite the chore. I hope to install a drip irrigation system when I'm able to.
Sometimes I will recruit someone to dig up an area or move a plant for me. This is always a hassle, but sometimes you just have to ask for help.
Stretch often. Get up from what you're working on and walk around the yard. Your body will thank you for it, plus you get a chance to admire your work. One of the best things for me is to see wildlife in my garden. I love to see birds, bees, butterflies, snakes, toads, and anything else that comes to visit. I have voles living in my yard. Voles are similar to moles but much cuter. :) Voles eat grubs, so I don't mind them at all. Since they've moved into my yard, I've had far fewer Japanese beetles and my roses are thankful. They seem to like it under the plastic I put down, I suppose because it's warmer. The downside is that when I went to pull up plastic a week or so ago, I disturbed their nest. I ended up planting elsewhere and holding off on that particular area for now. (Yes, I'm a complete pushover for the critters...)
I keep a cardboard box flattened out to sit on when I'm in the yard, and I have a cart that I keep all my tools in. This keeps everything I need close at hand and keeps me from getting a soggy butt when it's damp out. :)
Use companion planting to deter pests and attract beneficial insects. I grow a lot of things cottage garden style, flowers and vegetables all together.
Some days it's too painful to sit on the ground. On those days I will work on my containers. You can grow a large variety of flowers, herbs and some vegetables in containers. This year I'm expanding my vegetables quite a bit, and several of them are especially good for containers. Last year I drilled an old wheelbarrow with holes, filled it with dirt and grew cucumbers, borage, teddy bear sunflowers, catmint, wild petunia, ladybird lemon cosmos and calendula. I have quite a few of my herbs in pots, including rosemary, summer savory, oregano, thyme and basil. I grow jasmine tobacco, evening phlox and tuberose in containers so I can move these evening scented flowers to wherever I'm sitting. These are nice by the fire on summer nights.
I have recently been having a lot more pain in my leg, and an MRI showed a ripped disk and a bone growth from a previous surgery pushing into my nerve sac. I am scheduled for a spinal fusion, but the pain clinic is going to try a nerve block first to see if I can avoid it. I am trying to get as much planting done as I can before my surgery in a couple of weeks, but I don't know how much I'll be able to get done. If I can't avoid the surgery, I will probably have to adjust more to the spinal fusion. I'll post any tips I run across here. :)
I highly recommend gardening to anyone with a disability, even if it's a single pot. Working with plants is a great stress reliever and gives you a sense of accomplishment. There is nothing like growing your own food, and you can enjoy all the creatures that come to visit your garden. The birds eat many of the seeds of flowers I grow, so I leave the stalks up in the winter. Some of their favorites are:
Tickseed coreopsis (goldfinches are especially fond of these!)
Purple coneflower
Black eyed susan
I carry all of these in my shop.
I hope this has given you a few tips. I'll write more about companion planting and gardening in general soon!

1 comment:

  1. I'm another disabled 'able' gardener, and you're right about being a wonderful therapy, mental and physical. Some days, I think it's the only thing that keeps me sane!

    Good luck with the spinal block. I hope you're able to find some relief, soon!