How to Approach Gardening When You Have Physical Limitations

I have always loved gardening. I guess you could say "it’s in my blood." I’m a farmer’s daughter originally from Kansas. I pretty much did it all, just like my brothers. I drove tractors, helped with irrigation, took grain to the elevator in our farm trucks, fed the livestock, milked the cows (by hand), and so much more! My husband also grew up on a farm on the other side of the county and had similar experiences.

A love for the outdoors

So, why am I telling you about Dad’s farm? I think that’s one thing that made me love the outdoors, especially gardening. Growing up, I would rather be outdoors than anything! That love of being outside is still deep within my soul.

When the weather begins to warm, my hands start itching to get outside and start growing things. I can feel very depressed, but when I go outside, it begins fading away. Watching my plants grow makes me happy! In Spring through Fall, I start my day by touring my gardens. When I take my dog out again later in the day, we make more turns around the garden.

Gardening and myasthenia gravis

The hard work relieves my stress, but because of myasthenia gravis (MG) I have to be careful of sun exposure and how much heat I can comfortably tolerate. Many of the medications I take for MG warn about exposure to the sun, and many of us know what happens when we get too hot.

Gardening is an activity that can be enjoyed by almost anyone, even if you have physical limitations. We love to garden, but my husband had health and stability issues the last 3 years, and I have MG and am in a powerchair. We are also old and suffer from pain, but still have the desire to garden.

If you garden or want to, I have some suggestions that may help make things easier and more enjoyable for you.

Safety first

The first thing to do is to think about safety. You should have a well-drained surface to walk on. It should be stable, and you should have good traction. Wear gloves when possible and talk to your doctor about your tetanus vaccine. You don’t need an injury or tetanus! (I’m a retired nurse.)

Don’t spend too much time in the sun, especially without a good sunscreen. I like to wait until the garden is shaded and start there. Otherwise, you can wear clothing to cover your skin. Wearing a hat and sunglasses is a good idea, too.

Planning your space

Think about your needs, space, and means to accomplish your goals. When laying out your garden, make sure your walkways are wide enough to accommodate your needs.

My husband and I split up the work. He does one side of the row and I do the other. His walkways are about 2 feet wide, mine are 3 to 4 feet. Why the variation on mine? Some plants grow straight up and take little space, while others may inch their way into the walkway.

Raised garden beds

We’ve done raised beds before and love them, but it’s expensive and a lot of work to establish. If you’re handy with tools and lumber, you can build your own, or you can purchase kits where all you have to do is put it together and install it. They work well to reduce bending and stooping.

We are trying something new this year - gardening in wheat straw bales. They are much cheaper than lumber or kits and do a fabulous job.

In some of the gardening shows and videos I’ve watched, I’ve seen raised beds high enough for someone in a wheelchair or powerchair to pull right up to and work with their plants. The main problem I see with this one is if the plant gets very tall, you may not be able to reach the top to harvest your crop.

Pots and containers

One of the easiest ways to garden is with containers. We do this! Right now, all our herbs are in pots in one location. The pots are about 18 to 20 inches in diameter. The size depends on the herb and how much you want to grow. I use smaller ones for my oregano, thyme, and cilantro. You can grow most garden vegetables and flowers in a pot, too. This is great for beginner gardeners.

Consider how much you can handle

Consider how large of a garden you can handle. If you are a first-time gardener, you may want to start small. While I find gardening fun, relaxing, and a huge stress relief, it’s work. Take it slow and see what you can handle. You can increase it the next year if you feel you’re ready. Add only a few items every year until you have what you want and can handle.

Even if you have a spouse or significant other to help you, don’t count on them. That was my mistake, and I was run ragged last year. My husband was doing better, so we went with a larger garden. He couldn’t help me consistently throughout the summer, so there were times I was working it alone and it was exhausting.

Remember, it isn’t just about growing the plants, but also about planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing, watching and treating for pests and diseases, pruning as needed, harvesting, and preserving your harvest. For much of this, you can sit if you plan your garden accordingly.

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