We Brits are famous around the world for our love of gardening, and for many of us, pottering in the garden is the activity that makes us happiest. More than three quarters of the population gardens, and the overwhelming majority find pleasure in doing so.
Just getting out in the fresh air is a great buzz, and the satisfaction of watching something grow is an added bonus. There is quite a gender split when it comes to tasks in the garden – twice as many men enjoy mowing the grass, whereas women tend to favour weeding and planting.
Remembering the importance of keeping physically active, as a means of maintaining health, many of the regular gardening chores can be quite a workout. Digging over a vegetable patch or raking the lawn will both work up a sweat, and stretch some muscles. Pruning and hoeing may also contribute to your daily quota of exercise.
However, not all of us can manage strenuous activity in the garden, no matter how beneficial it might be. Whatever your favourite garden activities, it would be a crying shame to forego them because of problems with mobility or dexterity. New research has shown that there are significant health benefits for older people in doing light exercise on a regular basis. Five hours a week pottering in the garden would pass in a flash, and help with managing weight, preventing diabetes and staving off other chronic health conditions.
Some top tips for accessible gardening:
• Raised beds – if you can’t bend down, then bring the garden up to a height that is more comfortable for working. Raised beds don’t need much, if any, digging, and can also solve problems with drainage. You will find fewer weeds, as well.
• When it comes to lifting, think small. Whether it is bags of compost or watering cans, smaller and lighter means easier and safer to carry around the garden.
• Wheels can do much of the work for you – if you have large containers that need moving, a wheeled pot trolley is much better than risking your back. Equally, a light and manoeuvrable wheelbarrow is good for transporting everything from compost and gravel to garden waste, without strain.
• Beat the weeds in permanent beds by choosing groundcover plants that will smother weed seedlings before they can get established, or lay a weed-suppressing membrane – just cut slits for planting, and let your chosen flowers flourish without competition from weeds. The membrane isn’t pretty, so cover it with a mulch of bark chips or gravel.
• Lawn maintenance can be hard work, so do it a little at a time. Don’t obsess about invaders such as clover and daisies – they look pretty and provide nectar for bees and other insects, so leave them be. In times of drought, they will keep your lawn looking greener, as well.
• While considering lawns, tidy edges can take longer than mowing the main area of grass. A lightweight powered strimmer may be the answer, or a permanent edging strip that allows you to mow right up to the edge. Keep the shape of the lawn simple for fastest results.
• If regular weekly mowing is proving too much work, you could let areas of grass grow longer and just mow pathways through it. Replacing lawn with another surface such as paving, gravel or decking solves the mowing problem completely – but may also contribute to drainage problems, as surface water can’t just sink into the ground, and it is less friendly to wildlife.
• Hedges that are informal and slow-growing need less time and attention. Yew or holly are good choices if you are planting a new hedge. Avoid fast-growing evergreens which can quickly become over-dominant. If you keep hedges regularly trimmed to a height you can work on comfortably, you won’t have to use ladders or trestles to keep them under control.
• Pruning can be hard on wrists and hands, so if possible, steer clear of plants that need a lot of attention, such as wisteria, vines or elaborately trained fruit trees. Go for self clinging climbers such as hydrangea, and low growing fruit bushes which will be easier for harvesting, as well.
• Watering and feeding is hard work, particularly if you’re growing vegetables, or lots of tender flowers in pots. Some tricks to make it faster and easier – group containers together; one big container with several plants will need less watering than lots of separate little ones; a layer of gravel will help retain moisture in pots; for hanging baskets, add water-retaining granules to the compost and line with perforated plastic for better water retention.
• Choose the right tools to make gardening as easy as possible!
Accessible gardening – easy tools
Some of the helpful products that can make gardening chores easier. Generally, look for tools that are light but strong, to keep your effort to the minimum. Before you start work, always prepare yourself with some gentle stretches to loosen up your muscles, and don’t rush into a marathon gardening session at the first sign of good weather – little and often is better to conserve energy and prevent back strain or other injuries.
• Long-handled trowels, forks and grabbers can all save on bending down.
• Telescopic shears, secateurs and loppers can make pruning and hedge maintenance easier and safer, as you can avoid climbing up on ladders. But unless they are extremely light, they can be quite a strain for anyone with weak arms.
• Hand tools with a larger contoured handle are easier to manage with a weakened grip. You can also find tools with an extra support on the forearm, as shown here, which allow you to spread the load, rather than concentrating all the effort in the hand.
• A padded kneeler can make working at ground level more comfortable. Some have handles to make it easier to stand up. The kneeler shown here can also be turned up the other way to form a low seat or handy step.
• Lightweight and robot power tools. Budget permitting, you can get light electric hedge trimmers, shears and strimmers, all of which can take away much of the hard work normally involved in garden maintenance. A lightweight hover mower is great for a small lawn; or a robot lawnmower, which will quietly nibble away at the grass without any attention on your part. If you have a really large garden, a ride-on mower is fun and effective, if not the most environmentally-friendly solution!