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In the Garden: With careful plotting, gardeners can stay active as they age

Cathi Lamoreux, a horticultural therapist and Master Gardener, poses for a photo with a raised garden bed on April 18 in Spokane. The bed on the right is raised just high enough for someone in a wheel chair to use, or while sitting, the one on the left is the perfect height for someone to use while standing. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Cathi Lamoreux, a horticultural therapist and Master Gardener, poses for a photo with a raised garden bed on April 18 in Spokane. The bed on the right is raised just high enough for someone in a wheel chair to use, or while sitting, the one on the left is the perfect height for someone to use while standing. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Who says you can’t keep gardening as you age? Certainly not Cathi Lamoreux.

As a Spokane County Master Gardener and speech language pathologist who also has a certificate in horticultural therapy, Lamoreux works with individuals who have physical or cognitive limitations. She feels it is important plan ahead in order to continue gardening at any age.

“Folks should start thinking about this from the get-go,” she said. “We should always have a plan B and a plan C, but we don’t.”

Lamoreux has been practicing what she preaches by making changes in her own garden.

“My garden is pretty flat, which is a plus,” she explained. “I’m in the process of changing chock-full perennial beds into tree and shrub beds because they are less work. If you have really wide flower beds, you can plant the back 5 feet in shrubbery and then you’ve halved your work zone. I am not enamored anymore with really needy plants or anything that takes a lot of work.”

While perennials are a good value because the plants come up year after year, she feels they are not low-maintenance plants.

“If you’re looking to simplify your garden, you’re better off putting in one-season crops like vegetables and annual flowers,” she said. “They can die in place, you don’t have to remove them, and they will fertilize the soil as they decompose.”

Lamoreux also pointed out that lawns require a lot of care and should be avoided if that is an option. “You would be better off with pathways, benches and seating areas; once you install them, it’s less maintenance.”

She recommends selecting good hardscape materials while developing a landscape plan.

“Think about the decking materials, the patio, pathways and the types of materials you will use for stairs,” she said. “If you choose wisely and if you don’t make pathways uneven, further down the road you’re going to thank yourself generously.”

Lamoreux suggests avoiding pea gravel for pathways because it rolls and using crushed gravel instead.

She also has plenty of tips for gardening with physical limitations.

“Use smaller, lighter tools, especially ones designed for women because they are adapted to a smaller body size and hand size,” she advised. “Tools with brightly-colored handles help those with visual issues and save a person from crawling around on their hands and knees to find them.

Lamoreux likes the idea of using coolers on wheels because one can fill them with tools and snacks, tow them around the yard, and even sit down on them to rest.

Several of her tips apply to everyone, no matter how fit they are:

“Use small containers for your cuttings, deadheading and weeding,” she said. “Don’t buy the world’s biggest container because, by the time you fill it up, you can’t lift it. And give up dragging your tarp around because that’s a great way to torque your neck.”

Another reason Lamoreux likes smaller containers is that they force a gardener to change position more often, even if it’s just to walk to the compost pile or trash bin.

“Avoid repetitively doing the same types of tasks for hours on end,” she said. “Instead, prune a little, weed a little, tidy a little, and then cycle through the jobs again. It will make your body much happier.”

Raised beds are a great solution when bending or getting up and down is problematic. Lamoreux said the height recommendations for standing are 36 inches and 24 inches for sitting. She also suggests putting an extra-wide lip on the bed for sitting.

For those who have a family member with cognitive issues such as dementia, Lamoreux has some practical considerations.

“You want to be one step ahead of the game with safety because folks with these issues don’t use the best judgment,” she said. “An enclosed garden will keep the person from wandering away but it’s highly important they get outside because they’ll be much calmer and it reduces aggressive behavior. Level ground is ideal and keep sharp objects out of the area.”

No matter what one’s challenges are, Lamoreux feels strongly about the importance of continuing to garden.

“Through gardening, we can pass on our legacy of wisdom and knowledge to future generations of gardeners,” she said. “Even if the physicality of gardening is challenging, the intellectual stimulation and joy of sharing your knowledge is still an important aspect in your life.”

Learn about adaptive tools in this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video, at youtube.com/c/susansinthegarden.

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Susan@susansinthegarden.com.


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