Mother Earth Living

Gardening Is for Everyone! Learning to Garden with Disabilities

Susan Hoysagk is a seasoned nurse who, when not busy “nursing it up,” can be found gardening, experimental cooking with fresh organic herbs and veggies from her garden, reading, writing and rearranging her yarn stash. 

“Rain in the spring is as precious as oil.” ~ old Chinese proverb

I laughed out loud when I read this. The person who wrote that proverb certainly did not live on the Oregon coast. Here, winter seems to be hanging on a little longer (and wetter) than usual and it is making everyone quite grumpy–present company included! Soggy clay soil keeps us at bay, a bunch of dreamy-eyed, winter-weary gardeners chomping at the bit with our seed catalog orders in hand waiting for the gate to open. When the sun does make any kind of appearance, out rush us gardeners to greet it, finishing clean-up, marking out plots, digging, weeding, dreaming, and embracing the sounds and scents of Mother Nature. For many people, these tasks do not impose any problems; however, for more than 54 million Americans living with some type of disability, activities such as gardening are difficult or thought to be impossible. With everyone jumping on the green train, folks who never so much as touched a houseplant are sowing and reaping the benefits of homegrown foods. It is a way of reconnecting with the world while nourishing our bodies, minds and souls. I am here to tell you–regardless of disability or limitations, gardening is for everyone. It is all a matter of making adjustments.

You can grow your own herbs and vegetables, even if you have disabilities. Photo By Susan Hoysagk. 

People often think of mobility issues as the cement wall between them and gardening, but this is not always so.  Although mobility difficulties are quite a problem, and I will spend many words talking about it later, for now I am talking of activity intolerance. For example, if a person has difficulty breathing, doing anything that expends energy can be taxing. Working with a physician, and sometimes a physical therapist, can help formulate an exercise plan to help with this. The better tuned a body is, the less oxygen it needs to do things. The less you do, the less you can do. The more you sit, the more you have to sit. Instead of getting overwhelmed with all the things that you can’t do, try to focus on things you can do and start small.

Besides getting fitter to make life and gardening easier and more fun, try breaking an activity down into smaller, more manageable parts. I will use the example of planting a pot of herbs. Pick herbs you like to use in cooking or flavoring your foods. Most start out very well in a sunny window (as long as you don’t have my cat noshing on them) and can be transplanted outside later. You can keep them in the house but they really will never do well enough to harvest frequently; these sun lovers want at least six hours of it a day.

Work on planting your herbs in a bin or pan that will contain dirt and any mess. Photo By Susan Hoysagk.

You will need a pot with a hole for drainage, organic potting soil or seed starting mix, a coaster to keep the pot from ruining the sill, a small tub or similar to work in, and of course your seeds. You can recycle yogurt containers for a pot; just put some holes in the bottom and use the lid for a coaster. Gather supplies and put them where you will be working. You can do this at the kitchen table if you want. Rest. Have a snack. Pet that naughty cat. I have one of those plastic hospital basins I use, but you can use anything similar such as an aluminum pan from the dollar store (and working in one helps with damage control). Get some of the soil moist and put it in your pot. Rest again if needed. Rescue the packet of seeds from the cat and plant the seeds following the planting guide. Water well but gently and place on your pot coaster in the window; take another break. Clean-up. Done! The point is, you don’t need to do it all in one sitting and there is something extremely satisfying about growing, harvesting and eating your own fresh food.  

  • Published on Apr 15, 2011
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