new to gardening with a disability

susan30813August 12, 2008


I have been trying to adapt to my disabilities, and decided that since I can no longer work, I would use this time to grow a garden. Last year was difficult, this year I just want to give up. I am renting, there is a formal garden (a circle divided into quads with walkways between) Each quad is about 100 sq. ft. I put down landscape barrier last fall, to try to prevent weeds from taking over during the winter. Well, I pulled it up in Feb., to start preparing the soil. The soil is full of small rocks, but I got out as many as I could. In one bed I planted wildflowers & Cosmos, thinking these would be low maintenance. They were, but the cosmos won't bloom. In another bed I planted bulbs - some were successful, some not. I planted phlox in one bed, it seems to have taken over and migrated into the other beds. In the last one, I planted moss roses - they are lovely and healthy, but I didn't realize they would only bloom in the early morning. I want to put something in for fall, but am a bit discouraged and don't know where to start. A local landscaper suggested I just wait until next spring and try again but I hate to give up. Any suggestions?

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valentinetbear(z6 PA)

I'd first want to recommend visiting P. Allen Smith's site. I'm on his enewsletter list and have learned a lot from him. (Link below.) Have to warn you though, he's definitely not disabled, and works full time in his garden, so the purpose of visiting is to learn about different plants, and maybe some crafts you'd like to try in your garden. He's also big into continuing gardening even into the fall, so also has lots of recommendations for that, too.

One I remember is mums. Mums are really perennials, and are as easy as buying what you like at the grocery store or gardening center, and then planting it into the ground. I think they multiply over the years, but don't remember more, because it takes me too long to get ready for the first frost to keep adding to my garden.

Some suggestions to keep you less discourage in the future, but I must let you know, I have yet to figure out exactly how much gardening is too much, given my limited abilities anymore. I've been getting frustrated, discouraged, happy, excited, discouraged, furstrated, excited for several years now. LOL These are some ideas that are helping me, even if I don't believe any of this completely (really hard to go from abled to disabled -- not a thing accepted quickly.)

1. Unless you were Wonder Woman before becoming disabled, 400 sq. feet of garden is just too much garden! I over do in my garden and it's a container garden in my 16' sq. yard! It also has a picnic table, a grill, two chairs and two shelving units. Try to go for a more realistic goal -- maybe one of those bed, with quite a few perennials, so you don't have to start from scratch each year. (I personally couldn't do that either, but we're all disabled differently.)

2.) Consider skipping the ground all together and garden in containers. Obviously, one benefit is you don't have to lean down as far constantly, however, that's not the main reason I'm suggesting this. Containers contain your plants so your phlox doesn't roam over to your other flowers. It's also much harder (but it does happen anyway) for weeds to invade your containers. (Little suckers love to hide under the real plant's leaves, until it gets so big, I fear pulling them out will damage the real plant!) And, it's, again, much easier to pull weeds out at a higher level. And finally, containers cost money, so you'll have to gradually work yourself up to the garden you want in containers, helping you figure out when it's enough.

3.) Keep thinking "perennials," especially if you're determined to fill up all 400 square feet of space. Amazing the amount of work taken off, when a good portion of your garden doesn't require planting each year!

4.) Keep a garden diary -- it reminds you what worked, what didn't, what you want to try next year, and when you did what, so you know that the Sweet Peas were planted too late. Oh wait! That's my journal entry. LOL

5.) Practice these words, until you really mean them -- "Oh well!" This works well when you watch the days turn into weeks and the weeks months, and you know you never did get the time to plant everything you wanted to. It also works when you don't feel good enough to water the garden, and you know that means some plants are going to die. And, whether abled or disabled, it helps when more then half the seeds you started early never sprout, or when 4 outta 6 flowering plants die on you once they are planted. And, hopefully, some day, it will even work when the blasted squirrels decide to dig up my fig tree and sweet potato plant just to eat a little of the roots, or when they dig up every spot with more then 1" of soil exposed. (I haven't gotten that good at "Oh well," and I've been disabled and gardening for 7-8 years now. LOL)

Oh, this doesn't fit the list of ideas that will help you garden, but when you don't get an answer to your questions in here immediately, it's nothing personal. It's gardening season still, and it takes longer to get less done, so we can spend the rest of the day playing in our gardens, or simply relaxing in them - assuming some can actually do that one! LOL

Here is a link that might be useful: P. Allen Smith's siye

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 5:51AM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

Hello Susan

'Discouraged' is part of being a gardener...It's usually followed by determination and great ideas about how to turn the disaster into an asset. ;-D.

Your formal layout could be a useful plus as you can deal with it in very 'strict' ways, if that suits you and the house.

One way would be to convert the whole lot to grass - except for a single speciment plant in each quadrant. For example - four white 'Iceberg' roses - each on an obelisk and, perhaps, a Clematis to go with each one. The Icebergs flower throughout the season so you get several flushes of flowers.

If that seems too stark - create fairly narrow borders around the 'piecrust' edge of each quadrant and use annuals including Pelargoniums, Coleus, marigolds, petunias, begonias, in colour combinations that suit you and the house. Cover the remainder with grass, if possible. That way you can sit on the grass to tend the plants and use the path to reach from the other side. Start quite narrow - it's always easy to sneak another slice from the lawn later...

The moss roses could be used as a background 'canvas' for other plantings in front of them. They could set the scene for an 'old fashioned' garden which will give you some limits on what to buy and try. Catnip (Nepeta) could be used as a silver-blue border at the front and would go well will cream, purple, mauve, pinks - and confirm the formal appearance.

It really helps to have, at the front of your mind, 'lazy', safe, low maintenance, looks great.

I'm hoping you have a much smaller patch of ground where you can explore new plants and ways to cope with your disability.

If you love to have cut flowers in the house and you have a much smaller area with plenty of sun, you could divide it into narrow beds and plant sequences - bulbs, perennials, annuals that make good cut flowers. Check out the thread on raised beds on this forum. It's near the top.

Past a certain point of size and numbers, container gardening can be just as heavy and demanding as inground gardening. Think 'gallon pail of water'...

For the remainder of this season you might want to explore various plants and combinations using marked down plants. The Chrysanthemums are also a splendid idea - there are many varieties, forms and colours to choose from, and they're easy to propagate, too. Bedding Dahlias could be helpful also.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 11:11PM
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email me and ill get you gong, i had a great year with my barrier free garden. ill send you pictures, they will help you

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 6:39PM
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Hello again and thanks for the great advice. I was much healthier when I moved in here, and the formal cutting garden was one of the main attractions. Unfortunately, we have an acre, and much of it is grass. I do have some perennials in the beds, and a couple of weeks ago I put in a few yarrow plants, some coreopsis, golden dewdrop and cuphea.(I don't think the cuphea made it, they seem to be dead) I am going to put a thick layer of mulch, and move some of my containers into the beds. Letting it grass over is not an option as they are divided, and we don't need any more grass. I am hoping to use more of the site features (particularly the journal). I am fortunate to be ambulatory, my biggest problem is the fatigue. I visited a local nursery one day, in bed for two, got the plants in the ground, then in bed for a week!

"Oh well" is a great philosophy. Something else I did was engage Merry Maids to come in and clean the house every three weeks. I figure the money I save by being able to care for my plants will pay for the cleaning, and I get much more enjoyment from gardening!

Another useful thing: I put a mailbox on a post at the head of one of the walkways. Painted cute flowers, etc on it and I use it to store small hand tools (trowel, etc.) The box keeps them dry and I no longer am trekking back and forth to the garage.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 11:44PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

Today's wild thought: how much area could you convert into an arbour with seating and shading and a paved interior? With climbing roses and various vines growing over it. Paved niches around the outside for your bigger containers to sit on feet. A four foot wide path all round... 'Instant' grass reduction - and somewhere to disappear with a flask of tea, a garden notebook and a comfy pillow for a mellow afternoon.

I love your letterbox idea. That's so practical and pretty.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 11:25PM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

A couple of ideas...

Get the Southern Living Landscape Book. In a bookstore, it's $30. At Hamilton Books (aka Bargain Books), it's $10. The info doesn't change much, so don't worry about the pub. date.

This will tell you what plants will do well in your area. Most of the big-box stores sell lots of plants that don't grow in your area. It's better to start with something that has a decent chance. Nice winter activity. Keep a pen or pencil handy and make notes in the margins.

Call your local cooperative extension service (here's the main site, find yours:
and ask them about getting a soil test: who, how, where. They run about $8-10. The soil in your beds may be seriously deficient is something. You can't fix it until you know. If you don't understand the recommendations, call them and ask.

You can't beat heavy mulch for keeping weeds down. If you can't get enough to keep it thick enough, put cardboard down first and put your mulch on top of that. By the time the cardboard rots, the weeds will have been somewhat subdued by the lack of light. Furniture stores usually discard some larger pieces of cardboard. If you have to use smaller pieces like flatten boxes, just overlap them well.

If you hardly have any mulch at all, hold the cardboard down with rocks or bricks and just scatter the mulch over it to make it look like it's not bare cardboard.

If you can't keep up with all four sections, just keep the others in deep mulch until you can get to them.


Here is a link that might be useful: Hamilton Books

    Bookmark   November 6, 2008 at 1:24AM
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