By Duane Pancoast
The graying of America has been taking place for decades, According to Scientific American magazine, the ratio of workers to retirees was 4.6 in 2014 and is projected to be only 1.9 by 2100. These figures, called the Potential Support Ratio, were calculated by dividing the number of people 20-64 years old by those 65 and older.
A definition of retirement is being able to do what you want instead of what you have to do. For many, that means spending more time in the garden. For a growing number, however, the ravages of old age catch up with them before they have a chance to fulfill that dream. Knees, hips and backs give out. Arthritis limits finger movement. Cardio-pulmonary and respiratory problems limit the amount of time you can spend in the garden. Eyes fade and our memories may not be as sharp as they were.
Although this may sound pretty grim, it’s not all that bad. Gardening is one pastime in which people can adapt and continue well into their later years. In fact, the process by which seniors modify their gardens and gardening techniques to continue gardening is called “Adaptive Gardening.” Bad knees forced me to begin adapting more than 10 years ago, which is why I have taken such an interest in the subject, and write a blog, entitled The Geriatric Gardener. If you’re starting to feel those twinges of pain, this could open up a whole new writing market for you. If you’re still young enough that you think we geezers complain too much, you might want to stick the adaptive gardening into a tickler file for down the road when you can’t outrun the aging process any longer and begin to feel our pain. Literally.
What are some of the ways for mature gardeners to adapt? Here are just a few. Each one has been the subject of one of my posts and I am now working on updated approaches to them.
- Modify your paths so they are wider, smoother, and have no steps or steep inclines.
- Make convenient rest areas for frequent breaks in the shade.
- Modify your plant palette to those requiring the least amount of maintenance.
- Hire out what you can’t do yourself.
- Install raised beds (See photo).
- Learn about the aging-in-place outdoor initiative.
- Do more container gardening.
- Add memory aids.
- Get a fall alert.
Two books that helped inspire me to begin my blog, and to which I return for reference frequently, are Gardening for a Lifetime by the late Sydney Eddison and Slow Gardening by Felder Rushing.
In the year-and-a-half since I first began delving into the subject and posted my first blog until today, I have met a lot of nice people who share my need to adapt. It has resulted in some freelance assignments and other opportunities that have gone a long ways toward making the aging process more bearable.
Meet the Author
Duane Pancoast, a GWA member since 1985, posted his first twice-monthly blog (thegeriatricgardener.wordpress.com) in February 2017 at age 78. He also continues to work at The Pancoast Concern, Ltd., a marketing communications that he runs with his son. The firm works with companies and organizations serving the whole green industry.