Tips for Container Gardening With the Elderly and Disabled

Container gardening has become the primary go-to method of gardening for many people, especially for people who have different physical capabilities than most. Gardening in containers is extremely adaptable and can be executed in a way that makes the entire larger experience of a garden ready and waiting for everyone – even if they’re in a wheel chair, aren’t as strong as they used to be, or have other physical limitations that make traditional gardening impossible. Not only activity in the garden needs to be considered, but ease of access for basic enjoyment needs to also be a consideration – for those residents and disabled that may not enjoy working in a garden but enjoy and benefit from spending time in the garden otherwise. Container gardening makes most physical limitations a non-issue, and opens up this ageless hobby to green thumbs and brown thumbs alike.

Container garden planning needs to include functionality, so that it works for everyone involved. At the same time, the space needs to be beautiful and well designed as a cohesive landscape. Adhering to basic garden design and creating raised and accessible beds is a good technique- and is easy to do.

An accessible garden can still be much like a regular garden. Design an accessible garden with curving pathways, borders that have taller plants in back and shorter ones in front, with areas that serve purposes like a play area, a relaxing area, an area for storage, and an area for viewing. Think about adding a focal area with a fountain or water feature that’s safe to have around the residents that will enjoy it (sometimes ponds can be appropriate; sometimes a simple water fountain may be better). Along pathways and in borders, include raised bed areas for residents to use. You can create a space with a theme, or use plants that are suited well for your area (xeriscaping for example).

Pathways need to be wide and flat, without cracks and little in the way of ledges and obtrusive edging. Gate stairs, and try to avoid steep slopes if at all possible. Pathways need to have edges into soil that aren’t sudden drop offs, and edges that aren’t too soft is also recommended so that chair and walker wheels don’t get stuck, and so that feet don’t roll on the edge and send someone falling into the garden.

You can also design an area for container gardens that are on a balcony or patio, and it can be much simpler. Take into consideration watering the containers, as someone will have to haul water to balcony containers. The patio or balcony must have good drainage off of it, as watering containers is a messy and wet process. The patio must also be easily swept and kept clean, as containers can also shed and be messy. Place containers in view of windows if appropriate.

Place raised beds and containers in areas that receive full sun exposure, as most vegetable crops and common bedding plant selections require full sun. If a specific plant is requested that requires shade, make special considerations for those. But always default to the easiest method of growing and meet the most common requirement by placing beds and containers in full sun.

When building custom raised beds and containers, think about how people will be able to navigate around them and work with plants in them if they’re in wheelchairs or using walkers. Containers need to be placed in an area that can allow full access to the entire container from at least the front and sides. Beds need to not be too large and expansive so that residents don’t get exhausted and overwhelmed in them. Remember, containers and raised beds must be a joy for those who aren’t physically robust to use, not a chore. Starting too large can be more like work and drudgery, and not an exuberant day outside working in the garden and enjoying the time.

It’s good practice to use an already formulated and ready to use soil mix. These mixes come usually free of harmful organisms that can make residents sick. They are also usually sold in easily portable amounts that make adding soil to raised beds easier. And, it’s usually sold dry so it’s not heavy. A good, high quality mix will also grow plants well.

Fertilizer is a matter of preference. Plan on following the dosing instructions used on product bags, and don’t be shy with it. Plants grown in containers need a lot of food, especially plants that produce edible harvests like tomatoes and lettuces.

Pest control is not such an easy matter as soil preparation and fertilization choices. It’s not a good idea to bring in pesticides, even organically approved ones such as pyrethrum, into a place where people have weak immune systems and sensitivities that healthy people don’t have to worry about. Plan on using hands to remove bugs as you see them, or remove affected leaves and stems manually. Make a gentle insecticidal soap for killing indoor bugs such as spider mites, aphids, and many other common indoor pets. Insecticidal soap can also work outdoors very effectively. Sometimes a sick plant may simply need to be tossed and not trifled with.

Choosing what plants to grow is a simple and fun process. Most often, giving residents a box for them to work with and letting them choose what they want to grow in them is a splendid idea. Greenwood Nursery breaks plants down into potential uses such as best choices for container growing. Families may even bring in plants and packets of seed for their loved ones to grow. Encourage residents to choose plant selections that have been bred for growing in containers. Dwarf tomatoes, corn, and many small and compact veggies exist today, with the onset popularity of container gardening. Compact and beautiful versions of old fashioned garden favorites are common in flowers too, like small hydrangeas.

When the raised beds and containers finished, plant them and enjoy them! During the warm season, plan activities, gatherings, and meetings outside among the plants and outdoors. Watch wildlife visit more and more. Encourage families to use the garden spaces with their loved ones when they visit.

Enjoy the success and the happier place you’ll make with container gardens and raised bed gardening!