As we grow older, the inevitability of age catches up with us, and our bodies simply can’t do what they once did. Forget about running a marathon—though some beat the odds and do it—and forget about bench pressing 300 pounds. At some point, it becomes notably challenging to bend over and stand back up, let alone lift a 25-pound item from the ground. Growing a garden, for example, just isn’t as relaxing as it used to be.
When things get to this point, we have to start thinking smarter instead of working harder, and there are lots of ways we can make gardening easier physically if we just plant sensibly. In fact, elderly or not, a lot of these basic garden design ideas could benefit us. We could potentially be saving time, energy, and resources by relying on clever strategies as opposed to hard work and brute strength.
With that in mind, perhaps it’s time to put away the old gas-guzzling tiller, roll up the hose, and make the garden an efficient, easy place to manage, no matter at what age we are attempting it.
Source: Kristina Lynn/Youtube
In permaculture—a design science for living sustainably—there are many simple methods for making the spaces we live in more efficient, both in terms of how much work we do and how much energy and natural resources we require. These make even more sense as we get older.
- Keep Things Close – Gardens shouldn’t be at the far reaches of our property. They should be near the kitchen door, where all that produce will ultimately and hopefully find itself. In permaculture, designers use a zoning system, with Zone 0 being the home, Zone 1 being nearest the house all the way to Zone 5 being wilderness.
- Plant by Maintenance –Part of successful garden design is putting the most demanding plants nearest to the place we most frequent. For example, we might want salad greens or fresh herbs on a daily, if not for every meal, basis, so these should be closest to the kitchen. On the other hand, carrots and potatoes will be harvested all at once and require very little maintenance; thus, they can be planted further away.
- Sitting/Resting Areas – With that in mind, planting those Zone 1 crops like salad and culinary herbs around our patios and sitting areas makes great sense. We can relax while tending to them or harvesting them. Likewise, it’s not a bad idea to put benches, or maybe sitting stumps and rocks, throughout garden spaces so that it’s always easy to take a rest or set something down.
Source: I AM ORGANIC GARDENING/Youtube
High Raised Beds
When gardening in general, the act of bending down to grab a zucchini or pull a weed may become too taxing. It might be time to change what the garden looks like entirely. Instead of stumping over to get the ground, we can think of ways to bring the ground, or at least the food we are growing, up to us.
- Small Container Gardening – Lots of foods—everything from lettuce to strawberries to green onions—can be grown in small containers on a sunny windowsill, apartment balcony, or patio. And, of course, these containers can be set on shelves at the heights we need them to be. There are even planting towers.
- Vertical Growing – Plenty of plants like to climb to where we can reach them as well, so we should take advantage of what grows vertically. Cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, pumpkins, and garden peas will all happily climb trellises. There are also lots of vining fruits, like grapes, melons, and kiwis, that can be trained to set fruit where it’s easy to reach.
- Growing Tables – There are also growing tables, which are essentially raised bed gardens that have been lifted to table height. Or, if the soil is easy to come by, we can also just create high-raised beds. If necessary, these can be spaced so that wheelchairs or mobility scooters can pass between them.
Source: Gardening Australia/Youtube
Simple Irrigation Techniques
For many, garden maintenance is possibly the most labor-intensive part of the process, more so because it requires regular attention than anything. Watering, of course, is what many gardeners most worry about, likely followed closely by pulling weeds. Well, why not more or less keep this stuff off the to-do list?
- Mulch – Mulch is the best irrigation technique going. A layer of organic matter atop the soil protects it from drying out in the sun or the wind. It also suppresses unwanted plants (“weeds”), adds nutrients to the soil, and prevents soil compaction. A well-mulched garden will rarely need to be watered.
- Self-Watering – In arid climates, like Southern California or New Mexico, it might pay to make self-watering or wicking beds. These are raised gardens that sit above reservoirs of water such that the water is protected from evaporation but can get to the plants when the soil is dry. There are loads of ways to make these with repurposed materials, and because they are above small water reservoirs, they are raised a lot like growing tables.
- Natural Irrigation Design – In other situations, such as backyard orchards or terraced landscapes, we can design for natural irrigation, using earthwork techniques like swales (level ditches that soak water into the soil rather than drain it away) and mulch pits (holes filled with chunky organic material) to take full advantage of rain events when they do happen.
Brains over Braun
For some of us, we love getting down in the dirt, making gardening a physical experience, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. Using careful planning rather than physical prowess can make gardening a viable option for just about everyone. And, when that happens, we might be able to feed the world a bit more reasonably.
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