Garden redesign and planning for your winter years

ginger_nh(z4 NH)January 22, 2004

There is an excellent post on the Winter Garden forum by luseal on the winter garden ("TO MAKE GARDENING EASIER AS YOU AGE, PLANT A GARDEN TO LOOK GOOD IN THE WINTER"), and how it relates to the sort of garden one might want in one's later years. It is quite a nice piece of writing --a sensitive essay on aging and gardening. It is now part of the FAQ for that forum and well worth reading.

Also, in February's House and Garden magazine there is a wonderful article about Penelope Hobhouse' new garden in Dorset. She is planning the garden for her years to come. She is now 74. In reply to the interviewer's question about the garden being a lot of work for someone her age, she replies that she has planned it so that as the shrubs become larger, they will shade out the perennials which will die. She says "I am just going to let this happen. Gradually, over the next ten years or so, the garden will just be green. The evergreens and shrubs can hold the garden together without the flowers. I am going to be 74 years old, and I have a man helping me only one day a week. I've seen older people despair over their gardens or move because they can't cope. I want to stay here, and I think this garden is a good example to people."

I don't often enough think 10 or more years out into the future of the garden and its owners. We are such a mobile country, too; houses and gardens change hands so frequently. But for some, this could be an important part of redesigning a garden.

Have you considered this aspect of garden design when re-designing a garden with older people? When redoing your own gardens? What have you come up with?


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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

I am hoping to move to a new house and more land in the next 10 years, so probably I won't do much to what I have in my current location.

However, wherever I move to, should that be where I spend the rest of my life (or most of it), I will most definitely structure it for ease of mobility and access in my old age.

Access. Raised beds, level paths of bluestone or paving - instead of pea gravel and step stones as I use now.

Resting areas. Lots of places where one can sit and rest, whether benches, a weathered log mounted on blocks, or a stone seat carved from a glacial boulder - As long as it isn't a long distance from my butt to the seat. ;)

Lighting. Older eyes need more light, and I like to garden past dusk. As daylight dims, lights on timers, set to the right intensity to provide adquate illumination for my eyes, will be planned into the key areas.

Easy care plants. Ms. Hobhouse is brilliant. I'm going to do what she did, and let the self sufficient species gradually have full run. The stuff that needs constant care will phase out in time.

Color. The annuals and need-care perennials will be history when I'm too ancient to tend to their needs. If I want color (and older eyes which need more light, also see primary colors and bright hues more easily than the subtle tones), I'll have the handyman paint a wall aqua or paint the potting shed doors candyapple red.

Privacy, but not isolation. God forbid, "I've fallen and I can't get up..." As much as I like solitude, it's important for older people to have means to communicate and to be seen if they need assistance. There will be a clear view from the garden to the house and, if positioning permits, the street.

Okay, that's my list at first consideration. Maybe I'll come up with other stuff, such as well placed outhouses to take care of any increasing need for frequent bladder relief, and hidden patches of wacky tobakky in case I need remedy for arthritis aches. Just kidding. ;)

    Bookmark   January 22, 2004 at 10:50PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Too funny,Cady! Extra outhouses and seats not far from your butt, especially. Good input. I like the clear view notion and night lighting. I have a lot of older clients, including some of the first wave of babyboomers - planning gardens for their grandchildren, but usually with little thought to their own future needs.

I just took out my front yard and picket fence/New England cottage-style garden and replaced with lower-maintenance trees, shrubs, conifers, tough perennials, groundcovers, bulbs, and boulders/rocks; it will be mulched til' the groundcovers fill in. Did this partially because of decreased time in the garden b/c of my business, and partially in thinking of the not so far future.


    Bookmark   January 22, 2004 at 11:09PM
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After coming here and acknowledging our ignorance we sought out as many neighbors as we could find over the age of 80 most of whom were expert gardeners and shared plants with us. My best 'advisor' now will turn 92 next month, just after the time she hopes to plant her 'taters. EP

    Bookmark   January 24, 2004 at 3:14PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

That's the best, enchantedplace--garden til you drop! But judicious planning might extend that time frame. If you don't trip and fall on slippery pathways, say, you won't break your hip and be inside watching someone else plant your 'taters. I have several elderly gardeners for whom something like this occurring has meant being sidelined and having to hire others to do the gardening.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2004 at 3:21PM
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Everything Cady mentioned is good common sense. Also staying in balance to prevent falls. A good friend of ours fell in his office and broke a hip. We've installed switch back paths, hand rails, more than one access to most areas, raised beds, no mow areas. All of those things make any garden more convenient. EP

    Bookmark   January 24, 2004 at 5:46PM
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kathy_36(z4/5 Nebr)

I've been doing this for the past couple of years mainly because of the drought. I have mostly shrubs and groundcovers but I must have some peonies and old roses.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 11:06AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I don't know what happened to the post I THOUGHT I put up yesterday--probably failed to hit "post." SO--let's try this again!

I'll put in a word for an accessible Bird feeding station near a "comfy" window. My grandmother is 95--almost 96, and even though she is a little unsteady on her pins, she doesn't need to wait for my 97 (almost 98) year-old grandfather to fill the feeder. Watching birds is one of the great joys of her life. SO put up a feeder where you can get TO it--AND watch it!


    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 1:10PM
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chickadeedeedee(z 6-7 ish Ohio)

I needed to do this for my Mom....decrease the height of steps from the house to the yard and make them wider thus accomidating the use of a walker. I painted a thin red line at the edges of each step so she could locate them easier. (The following year she had cataract surgery and sees 20/20!LOL)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 3:36PM
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I'm 61 yrs. now and I read these gardening books about people a lot older and still going strong. I don't want to limit myself. If a bed or design gets to be too much right now I simplify it, put more mulch down to keep the weeds under control, put more shrubs in, eliminate fussy corners to make mowing easier, and get rid of plants that are hard to grow. I try and exercise and eat right so hopefully I can keep gardening for a long time.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2004 at 11:20AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Sounds like you're good for 30 more years, Dianne42. :)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2004 at 11:34AM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

Dianne, you just hit the nail on the head - staying active. I have strange heroes, but an 80-year old local tree farmer is one of them. At his age, he can (or at least does) still outwork most people 1/3rd of his age. This spry geezer atributes it all to staying active. His knowledge is awesome. He says it's because he has already made every mistake known to man. Unfortunately, I'm still finding new ways to mess up, nearly every day.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2004 at 12:33PM
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