Garden helpers

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Part of my back garden, created in my more energetic years

It is hard to imagine as a young gardener - when one has boundless energy and strength, can garden from dawn till dusk, is able to wield mattocks for hours in the creation of new borders, and can push laden barrows of compost from one end of one's plot to the other - that one day you'll be reduced to pointing with a walking stick to where you want a plant to be put in or a weed pulled out, and having someone else do it for you!

This, however, can be the unfortunate fate of those of us who suffer from severe arthritis. In my own case, the condition has worsened greatly over the past six months, and has caused me to ponder on exactly how one can manage a large garden when one is basically prevented from doing even the most simple of outdoor activities! These thoughts are also relevant to ageing gardeners in general, if one plans to stay in one's own home for some time to come.

Camellia Wirlinga Princess

Growing plants that need a lot less maintenance is obviously the major consideration, and I have decided to eliminate some specimens that need a lot of pruning - including some of the larger Salvia cultivars, beautiful as they are. I now look to plants that hold their shape throughout the year without needing cutting back. Once I would have considered such plants 'boring' but now they are worth their weight in gold to me and I wish I had planted more Camellia in my youth, for example!

I have also given up growing most of the little herbaceous perennials, the ones so cherished during my cottage garden years. They need too much attention in dividing, deadheading and so on, and often don't thrive that well in our Sydney climate in any case, needing to be replaced every few years if you want to keep having them in your garden. I now look to bigger, bolder masses of plants from warm climates that thrive here instead of having single specimens of many different plants from unsuitable climates, and I think my garden looks better for this. The use of effective mulch to reduce the need to weed has also never been so foremost in my mind. This can really make a huge difference for those unable to bend down to pluck out weeds anymore! I have found cane mulch to be the most useful substance for my borders.

My forged hoe cultivator, a very useful tool for digging

The use of a raised bench to pot up cuttings and seedlings has been a very practical aid. It's hard to believe now that I always used to do these activities at ground level! For other tasks, the addition of long handles to any conventional garden tool can be very helpful. Long-handled pruners are great for pruning without having to plunge precariously into borders, and a long-handled, lightweight chipping hoe can come in very handy for getting out weeds that do pop up. The picker-upper devices that are sold in mobility shops to pick up things off the floor when you can't bend are marvellous for picking up prunings and can even pull out some weeds! I believe that it is possible to get a similar tool actually meant for disabled gardeners, with the same sort of trigger-type lever at the handle. Another handy device is my large, long-handled dustpan, which enables me to remove debris after sweeping the paths without having to bend over! On the other hand, one of most helpful tool for me over the past few months has been a short-handled tool (called a 'forged hoe cultivator', pictured above) with a blade placed at 90 degrees to the handle and a fork at the same angle on the other side, that can cultivate the soil quite effectively even when used sitting down, now that I cannot dig with a spade.

Useful tools with long handles

When I planned my current garden 20 years ago, I incorporated a set of terraces with retaining walls, up which I used to be able to bound in a single leap in order to get into the borders they contained. With such leaps now out of the question, a sturdy plastic set comprising two steps has proved a most efficient way of me to get into my borders. Another wonderful aid is the garden kneeler/seat, with handles to enable one to get up and down with ease. Much can be achieved comfortably sitting or kneeling on this device.

My most treasured help has come from those who have done the gardening for me over the past few months: my husband, Andrew (creator of this website), who does all the hard work of mowing, the pruning of hedges and topiary, the mulching up our many prunings, and the digging our heavy clay soil; and my wonderful gardener, Julie. Julie (in previous years assisted by her twin sister, Dianne) has helped me in the garden borders for the past five years since I was diagnosed with arthritis, patiently and carefully following my endless lists of instructions, and always providing a cheerful and positive energy in my garden on the days of her visits. Without her help, my garden would now be a complete shambles.

I am having a hip replacement this week - so I won't be blogging for a little while. But everyone assures me I will ultimately be able to return to gardening with gusto. Wish me luck!

Reader Comments

  • By Julie 2097 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 July 2013

    Hi Deirdre- all the best with the new hip this week- I got my new hip 18 months ago, and I am back actively gardening as good as before. Remember to do all the exercises that the physio tells you to do- and go swimming as soon as possible. I love your advice about ageing with one"s garden- I have an eye on the future for my yard - more raised beds, a potting bench (of recycled bits and pieces), more pathways where once was massed greenery& more seats. cheers Julie

  • By trish 4068 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Good Luck! I"m sure you"ll be pleased with the new hip once the immediate "discomfort" is over and will be back enjoying the garden again before you know it. Trish

  • By noeline 2081 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Hope your operation and recovery go well.You will be amazed how quickly you can get about the garden (after a decent recovery period)Julie"s comments are right on the mark about swimming it will speed you mobility no end. I"m glad its winter so you will have time to fully recover before the spring.Keep your chin up all will be back to sunshine and flowers in no time :)

  • By Catherine 2318 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    All the very best, Deirdre. I do hope you"re back to all the gardening you want to do soon. I love your beautifully written blogs.

  • By Catherine 2071 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    I haven"t found any specialty shops in Australia for gardeners who are more immobile or have a disability but in the UK there is "Carry on Gardening". It has lots of info about how to manage your garden when you have various health problems. And best wishes to you for a speedy recovery!! I believe they just about have you walking out of the operating theatre these days......

  • By Chris 3340 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    I wish you all the best Deirdre for your operation and recovery and look forward to reading your blogs again afterwards. Dont forget you can still share your wealth of knowledge, inspire and entertain other gardeners even though you may not be up to jumping over retaining walls. Come back soon. Chris

  • By Robyn 2156 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    You won"t know yourself with a new hip !! Back in the garden soon - your garden is so pretty ! I have just been pruning roses and a huge Smoke bush so I am also thinking about some low maintenance new plants. All the best !!

  • By Ian 2519 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Oh dear.How frustrating not being able to garden like in younger days. Know the feeling as have no strength in my hands but lucky to be able to call on an "ox" to grub out unwanted shrubs ,who can be bribed with a case of beer for his efforts! Good luck with op Deirdre. Thanks as always for sharing your story Ian

  • By Peter 2008 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Best wishes with your new hip Deirdre .... I have friends who have been through double hip replacements, one of whom is more active that before. Physio, hydro theropy and expertise in this field has transformed so many lives with this surgery. Big LUVS and thinking of you ... Peter

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Always wanted a large garden, but now, after two hip replacements, am pleased I have a smaller, manageable one. My shed, with potting bench, and kneeler, are invaluable. I"m planting more begonias, of all types - they are easy to grow and maintain. My large garden beds have been divided by stepping stones, for easy access to plants. Thanks for the Cultivate web site - didn"t know it existed. Glad the op is over and you can look forward to gardening with renewed vigour.

  • By doreen 2148 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    I read with interest your blog re help for arthritic people. I know only to well the difficulties of handling a large garden and I too am reassessing my garden so found your experiences most helpful. I have arthritis in my spine and have had a knee replacement which has been fabulous. I reiterate others comments about rehab and especially swimming which I have found really helps. I am just off to my aquarobics class. Good luck with your op and look forward to more lovely garden information

  • By Judith 2539 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    I wish you all the very best. We are very fortunate we live in this time when these ops can be done by our amazing doctors. Your back garden looks beautiful. Thank you for your interesting blogs and your helpful and inspiring information.

  • By Robin 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Lie back and think of Chelsea! Hope you are pain-free as you recover from surgery. Perhaps there will be time to read gardening books inbetween physio and hydro sessions. I will miss your blogs. From the comments above you can see you are valued and loved by your fans. Thank you for another helpful blog to give a reality check to those in denial of ageing and possible accidents. I am caring for two men recovering from broken legs and no gardening is happening here. God bless you, Deirdre

  • By Serena 2483 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Can so relate to the first paragraph....that was me, out in the garden the whole day when younger! Now it"s an hour or two, and I have to come in for a break! Managing your life around arthritis sure has it"s challenges! Hope the op goes well. Am sure it will. I had partial knee replacement and had pain relief pretty well instantly! Best wishes Serena.

  • By Sue T. 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    All the best for your op tomorrow. I hope it gets you back into the garden soon. You"re certainly right about arthritis and big gardens. Sue

  • By Richard 2112 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Here"s to a speedy recovery! I have a 20yo lumbar disk injury, much worse in the past 5, so I pay for any heavier garden work! I have raised benches for cuttings, orchids, zygo & epicactus, made from besser blocks & lengths of the galvanised fencing that was popular around schools & as front fences, all materials picked up from council cleanup, as well as a neatly folding plastic topped cafe table for pottng that I can easily moved around the garden. Where there is a will there is a way!

  • By gillian 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Hope it all goes well! Your blogs portray so much energy and enthusiasm that we readers have no idea of your difficulties. Gillian

  • By Gil 2037 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Speedy recovery, Deirdre. Gil

  • By Carole 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery Deidre. I had a new hip 2 years ago, wonderful it is, titanium with a ceramic head :-) Only advice I have to offer is make sure that you have some pain pills that are stronger than just paracetamol for the first week or so when you leave hospital. I left hospital on day 5 without the pain med back-up - too gung ho by half!

  • By Florence 4068 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Take care Deirdre, we will be looking forward to your next posting, wether a post op update or another of your wonderful gardening insight. Looking forward to a new hipy hipy shaking Deirdre for spring!

  • By Chris 2071 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Best wishes for the op. You just can"t keep a good gardener down! When you have recovered, I would really appreciate your advice on what you replaced your perennial borders with when you moved to larger plantings of more local things. I think many of your fans are facing this situation. Many thanks for the wonderful blog. Chris

  • By Clarissa 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Speedy recovery Deidre. With much appreciation for the generosity of your blogs. Your delightful personality always shows through with every item you send us. Our thoughts are with you as we all adjust to changed circumstances .. ageing catches up with all of us eventually .....clarissa

  • By Georgina 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Dear Deidre, Look after yourself after your hip replacement. Remember gardeners look at the flowers. Always enjoy your blog and look forward to the next when you are back in the plot again. Georgina

  • By Angela 2234 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 July 2013

    Wishing you a speedy and rejuvenating recovery Deirdre! Now it s time to organise your photos and cross stitch some flowers.. While you wait to be able to bound about your garden again.

  • By Lindy 2093 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 17 July 2013

    Good luck with the hip replacement and I wish you a speedy recovery, Deirdre. You"ll be out and about just in time for Spring! Love your blogs and look forward to them starting up again when you"re better. Lindy

  • By Carole 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 17 July 2013

    Just read an interesting article Deidre and thought of you whilst doing so - you might like to put it on your bucket List ;-)"s-secret-garden_1286?page=1 Best wishes again and enjoy the rest.

  • By Lynsey 2100 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 20 July 2013

    A new hip! What a blessing. You won"t know yourself! I"m also struggling with gardening in old age and found your blog so inspiring as always. So far I have a knee replacement which, while infinitely better than the real knee, is quite restrictive, and I can"t get down to weed or plant. Casual hired help seems to be hard to get in my area. I"ve had to adjust my definition of gardening, and am considering learning to love the exuberant weeds that grow through the cane mulch. Get well soon!

  • By Lois 3216 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Sunday, 21 July 2013

    Good luck with the hip. My husband has had both hips replaced with great success.I suffered back problems a few years ago and know how frustrating it is not to be able to garden so hope you are back working in your garden soon. Lois

  • By thea UK Monday, 22 July 2013


  • By Karen 2170 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 25 July 2013

    Just found your lovely blog, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, so I can definitely empathise with your situation. Good luck with the op and hopefully back to the garden soon. Karen from Australian Native Plants Down Under.

  • By Elyson 4069 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Sunday, 28 July 2013

    Only just read your blog; usually I read it as soon as it has arrived! Hopefully you will now be recovering from your operation and doing the boring but essential physio by now. A good friend of mine had a hip replacement five years ago at 45 and it has made an amazing difference. We cycle together regularly so it must be working very well. Wishing you all the best for a speedy recovery and back to enjoying your garden again soon. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us all.

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