As a longtime gardener, I just love the smell of potting soil in the warm sun. Add the scent of herbs, flowers and the taste of a fresh cherry tomato, and I’m in my happy place. It’s certainly something I don’t ever want to give up.
If you know a senior who’s loved to garden for decades, like I do, then I bet they’d be delighted to learn they don’t need to give it up as they age. They might not want to weed huge beds or handle heavy pots, but they can still get their hands in the dirt and grow fresh herbs, vegetables, flowers and other plants.
With an elevated flowerbed, it’s easier for older adults with back problems and other age-related ailments to do small space gardening. With an elevated bed, those who need to work either standing or seated can still plant, water and enjoy their garden.
Elevated garden beds provide a container deep enough for the soil to stay moist and allow for root growth. Many are on four legs so they’re at waist height. This allows those with hip, knee, back or balance problems to still dig in the dirt. The following are some tips on senior-friendly gardening.
Where to Place Your Bed
You don’t need a lot of room for raised flowerbed. If you have a small balcony or patio, you should be able to fit one in a space around four feet by two feet.
If you have eight or more hours of sunshine, you can grow herbs, veggies and flowers that enjoy the hot sun. If where you live gets less sunshine, stick to shade-loving flowers or even low-light houseplants.
Start with the basics: an elevated bed, good quality potting soil, time-release fertilizer, a watering can, a hand trowel and garden clippers for pruning. Choose small bags of soil so they’re easier to handle. Using a scoop or a big measuring cup for dipping and pouring soil into the container also helps.
Make sure the bed’s drain holes are open so excess water can drain. You can cover the holes with a small stone so the water can drain but the soil won’t clog the hole. Then fill the container with soil to within one or two inches from the top of the container. This allows room for water.
A garden doesn’t have to accommodate one type of plant or another. It can be delightful to mix flowers with vegetables and grow a few favorites of each. Here are some easy plants that do well in a small space:
- Sunny Flowers: Zinnias, periwinkles, petunias and daylilies all love the sun, grow upright and are easy to care for. For plants that cascade over the side, try lantana, verbena or Million Bells petunias.
- Shade-Loving Flowers: As long as your garden gets four or so hours of sun, you can still enjoy the bright blooms of shade-loving flowers. Heart-shaped caladiums, bright impatiens and begonias are good shade choices. For a cascading effect, plant ivy, vinca vine or lobelia.
- Vegetables: Lettuce is an easy crop for a small space. It performs best in the spring or fall rather than under the summer heat. During the summer, lettuce can be replaced with a different plant. Cherry tomatoes or patio tomatoes grow in a container. You can also grow hot peppers, basil, green onions and pole beans, which will need a small trellis to climb on.
- Herbs: Herbs love the sun so you’ll need around eight or more hours of it. They also love to grow in containers. Easy-to-grow herbs include chives, basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary.
- American Home Shield’s guide to a low-maintenance vegetable garden is helpful for the laid-back gardener who wants to enjoy fresh produce without spending too much time outdoors.
- The best way to track plant watering is to monitor rainfall and check the dirt for moisture. Then you can water as needed.
- Feed the plants following the directions on the back of your time-release fertilizer.
Small space gardening gives added motivation to get outdoors in the fresh air and can be enjoyed by seniors with varying ability levels. Some older adults prefer to choose the plants, get their hands in the dirt and enjoy the planting process. There are others who are content to just water their garden and watch it grow. Either way, gardening can bring hours of enjoyment, quiet contemplation and a subject of conversation.
Lea Schneider has been a gardener for many years, and has also worked at a professional flower growing company. Lea writes about her gardening knowledge for Home Depot. For more small-space gardening ideas, including raised garden beds, you can visit Home Depot’s website here.