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!