Cover Story

Gardening Is For Everyone

by Katie Lamar Jackson, Contributing Writer


Donít let space, age or limited ability cast a pallor on your passion for planting ... plan your patch to fit your personal needs.

Itís been said that gardening is good for the soul. Itís been proven that gardening is good for the mind and body. And, luckily, the benefits of gardening are available to everyone, regardless of age, ability or locale.

Thatís right, you donít need access to a yard and donít have to be perfectly healthy or fit to garden. You just have to adjust the garden to fit your needs.

If lack of space is your greatest gardening limitation, take heart. You can garden inside a fourth-floor walkup or a retirement-home apartment by using containers and by growing plants suited for your environmental conditions.

If you have no access to a patio or balcony, choose potted houseplants that require less sunlight and are suited for your specific indoor ďclimate.Ē If your apartment tends to be dry, especially in the winter when the heating unit is cranked up, pick plants that donít need lots of humidity or plan to keep plants in the bathroom where they may get some moisture from the shower. If your place tends to be cold or drafty, pick plants that can tolerate those conditions.

Once youíve picked the right plants for your indoor space, put them in pots that are easy to manage ó not too heavy or on wheels in case you need to move them about ó and make sure they have trays underneath so the irrigation water wonít drip on your floors. Also, fill the pots with a lightweight, well-drained growing media, such as peat or sand, so you wonít add extra weight to the pots and wonít promote root rot or other soil-related problems.

Not going to be satisfied with houseplants? Try window boxes! These work beautifully for sun-loving plants and are ideal for many annual ornamental plants, herbs and even some vegetables such as salad greens.

Another container option for totally indoor or small-space patio and balcony gardening is the planting bag, which is a plastic bag filled with a soil mixture designed so you can plant directly into the bag and also add water and fertilizer as needed. Planting bags can be expensive, but they are quite effective and often can be used for several plantings.

Hanging baskets are also a great option for small-space gardening, though keep in mind that they require frequent watering.

If you have a small balcony or patio or access to a roof area, your options expand tremendously because you can use containers and also raised beds on those sites to grow a wider range of plants. Always get permission from the building owner if you are using a roof or other public space for a garden. Once you have the go-ahead, you can use potted plants or build wooden or brick frames as garden beds, fill these with a soil medium, and then plant them with anything from flowers to herbs to vegetables. Trellising or caging crops can also save space, especially if you have plants that tend to vine and run.

Adjusting for physical limitations

In addition to being ideal for small spaces, raised beds and container plantings can reduce or eliminate the need to bend or kneel and make the plants more easily accessible from a seated or standing position, so they can be ideal for people with physical limitations. Just build the beds to a height that suits your needs for standing or sitting, or place pots on pedestals or risers to meet your height requirements. Pay special attention to the height of the plants you use. Pick plants that will not get so tall you canít reach or see them with ease. Also, if you are mixing several plant sizes in a bed, locate shorter plants in the front so that they are visible, easy to reach and wonít be shaded.

If you want to grow vegetables in small spaces, select small, compact varieties. Strawberries, by the way, often are ideal fruit crops for small spaces because they can be grown in hanging baskets and pots, and strawberry plantings can last three to four years if you take good care of them.

If vision problems are limiting your gardening options, donít give up. People with low-vision issues can still garden by laying out the beds in a simple, easy-to-see fashion and by using brightly colored plant markers to identify plants and areas of the garden. They can also use plants with colorful, vivid flowers and foliage so their visual impact is more pronounced. For those with total vision loss, using fragrant flowers and herbs or plants, such as lambís ear, that are pleasant to touch can keep the gardening experience alive. And using wind chimes, rustling grasses or water fountains can add enjoyment to a garden space, whether youíre sight-impaired or not.

Gardening is also possible and can be therapeutic for people with memory-loss disorders, such as Alzheimerís disease. Keep the garden area simple so itís easy to manage and navigate and think about using plants that might trigger pleasant memories.

These are just a few ways to garden in any environment or under any conditions, and more tips on small-space and disability-friendly gardening can be found in books and through gardening clubs and associations, Extension Service offices, rehabilitation centers and many other sources. So donít let circumstance or location rob you of the benefits of gardening.

Katie Jackson is a writer, editor and photographer for the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and Auburn University College of Agriculture, with more than 25 years of experience reporting on science, agriculture and the environment. She is author or co-author of three national gardening books and countless newspaper and magazine articles.


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