A Mother’s Day Gift: Garden for Seniors
The Gift of A Garden
I listened to a message from one of my clients’ daughter asking if she could give a garden redo and me as a gift for Mother’s Day. She wanted to schedule the project, shopping trip and installation to occur all in one day. Instead of giving the gift to her mother, she explained that her grandmother loved to garden all of her life, but was unable to do so due to being in her nineties. She wanted a garden that her grandmother could sit and enjoy from the deck and dining room table. The garden had to be low to no maintenance and incorporate an older garden. She finished with, “Is that possible?” I replied to the machine, “Definitely!”
When I arrived at the address given, I knocked upon the door and was greeted by Cathy. I explained that I was her gift for Mother’s Day from her granddaughter. Cathy was very excited and pleased for such a gift but was not sure what I was going to do in her yard. I walked with her out to the side yard and showed her the old garden I was asked to renovate. She began to explain that she used to grow beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers every year but was unable to do so now. She told me that her father had grown rhubarb for many years and pointed to the plant she still had from him. This rhubarb plant was over one hundred years old and looking as good as ever.
Did You Know?
- The Romans labeled people who ate rhubarb "barbarians" due to its Latin name, rhababarum which means root of the barbarians .
- Ben Franklin, it is said, sent the seeds of rhubarb in the late 1700's to the Quakers on the American East Coast.
- You can use rhubarb fiber to make homemade paper.
- Rhubarb powder commanded extravagant prices in France in the 16th century.
- By the 1st century, rhubarb root was known in the Roman Empire, having been recorded as a pharmaceutical by Dioscorides.
Would you consider this for a Mother's or Father's day gift?
Assessing the Need
Cathy explained that she could not do much gardening anymore due to her mobility. She began to tell me about all of the several areas in her yard that were once full of different cutting flowers. Cathy also talked about a landscaping company that now did her mowing and trimming along with any fall clean up that needed to be done. She was able to take care of the few deck planters she had, but over the last five years she had begun to cut back on extensive gardens. Cathy let the hostas and irises fill in where once she had annuals tucked in under her shrubs, geranium planters occupied her front walkway leading up to her steps, and shrubs were now filling in areas she once gardened as a cutting bed. She still had her green thumb, but now she used it in a minimal way.
I dug into the garden I was to tackle to check on the soil condition and it was a lighter brown than it once was. I knew it needed to be amended. I described to Cathy that I was going to give her old vegetable garden a new look by adding in perennials and annuals. I asked her if she wanted to take a trip to the nursery with me to select the new plants, and she was thrilled. I told her it would be a couple of hours before I would be ready to go due to getting the garden weed free, adding in the compost and then tilling the area. I walked her back to the front door, got my tools from the truck, and began to rediscover this old treasure of a garden.
Out with the Old . . .
First off, I had to weed out anything that did not belong. By the time I was done all that was left for plants were; the 100 year old rhubarb, two bleeding hearts in white and pink, columbine, three roses that I had pruned from the winter damage, three small hostas, and a clematis. Even though there were not going to be any produce from this garden, I used organic compost. I layered 3 inches across all of the open ground and then tilled the whole garden. I created a small path that went across the garden with some flag stones that were leaning up against a shed. I also added a piece on the front edge that could be used to step upon to cut the herbs I was adding in. Once that was all done, I cut a new edge so the grass and mowing crew would not get into the garden area. All that was left to do was go plant shopping.
As we arrived at the local nursery, Cathy began to get enthusiastic about all of the plants that were already available. I dropped her off at the front entrance and asked her to get a cart while I parked the truck. Cathy chatted up the greeter that was helping all the shoppers with carts and trays and got the layout of the nursery. By the time I was next to her, she knew where all of the annuals, vegetables, herbs and perennials were and our cart had trays on it for the plants.
We began by picking out some herbs she loved to cook with and would like to have once again. Then it was off to the annuals. Cathy began looking at the pansies and commented on how pretty the faces were. I mentioned to her that I had seen planter by the front door that could hold those and she picked out a six pack for there. The next selections I made due to the need of low maintenance, but she picked out the color scheme she wanted to go with the few plants that were in the garden. We picked up a few perennials, headed for the checkout line and got the truck loaded with the bounty of new plants.
Plants Chosen for Design
Petunia 'peppermint stick'
Dianthus 'Tiny Rubies'
Gazania 'Kiss Orange'
Dianthus 'Early Bird Fizzy"
Gazania 'Kiss Mahogany"
Osteospermum 'Coral Sands'
Viola 'Johnny Jump Up'*
Cyperus Involucratus 'Baby Tut'
Portulaca 'Sundial Scarlet'
Viola tricolor subsp. hortensis 'Pansy'
Begonia 'Cocktail Whiskey'
Begonia 'Doublet Rose'
Begonia 'Spring Scarlet'
In With the New
The plants that I chose were meant to incorporate all of the gardens Cathy once had in to one garden she could easily access. The herbs would give her a smaller, easy to approach and use kitchen garden. Some of the annuals would give her the cutting gardens she had around the yard. The perennials chosen would add to the perennials already existing, and give the added bonus of attracting butterflies.
The back of the garden, near the rhubarb, had a long blank space. The petunia mix was placed there to bring in some color and scent when Cathy went to harvest her rhubarb. By placing these along the edge, she would not have to reach in to do any of the deadheading that might be needed. I chose a variety that would only grow up to eight inches tall and zig zagged them instead of one straight row. Cheddar pink dianthus was added by the bleeding hearts, along the new path that split the garden in two, filling in the area and adding a flower that could be used for arrangements.
I placed the portulaca by the base of the clematis to protect the roots of the clematis. I also added morning glorys, which were already started from seed, on the trellis containing the clematis. In front of this area there was enough space left of the impatiens that were going to be purchased a bit later due to cool nights. A small bird feeder statue Cathy had in her shed was added to this section. A columbine plant was added as a companion to the one that was already present to give some additional height to the overall garden look.
In the largest open space, three baby tuts were spaced out to form a triangle while six dianthus plants surround them. The baby tuts will reach a height of two feet while the dianthus will reach a foot. This will give the viewer’s eye a focal point and Cathy can easily cut fresh flowers for the house. Daisies were mingled in between any spaces between the dianthus and the garden edge. For the garden edge, mixtures of begonias were placed to compliment the colors that would be surrounding them.
A small piece of flag stone was placed to the right of this area so that Cathy would have a place to put her basket down and collect her cut flowers and herbs. The herbs were planted in a small area, to the right of the stone, making it easy to get cooking herbs for any night’s meal. Behind the herbs, Johnny jump ups were added to add a splash of color to all the green from the herbs.
The last piece to go in the garden was an ornamental sprinkler. I got the hose out from the shed, added on a quick connect sprinkler set to a smaller length of hose that would then connect on to the sprinkler. The quick connect would allow the hose to be disconnected/re connected without having to undo the hose at the sprinkler every time it may be needed for another purpose. I turned the water on to give the new garden a good soak and found Cathy sitting in a chair already admiring the garden I had just finished.
This was one of the best “jobs” I have ever had the pleasure of doing. ~ Susan McLeish
The products listed from Amazon in this hub are items that are beneficial to anyone that may have trouble gardening.
- Ergonomic hand tools are fantastic for the hands of those with arthritis. These tools make gardening easy and enjoyable for me and my RA.
- The garden seat allows tools to be kept right where they are needed and no more stooping over to do simple weeding, light pruning, or flower cutting.
- The rectangle basket is a great all around garden tool. It holds many sizes of veggies and cut flowers. It it sturdy on the ground and easy to carry on your arm.
- The sprinkler is a great garden accent and thanks to Cathy, I will be adding one in my own garden instead of lugging a ground sprinkler around the yard.
For Further Plant Information BHG Guide
Annuals are all-stars in the garden: They use their limited time wisely by filling it with vigorous growth and outstanding blooms. And they are incredibly versatile plants, suitable for containers and window boxes, in flowerbeds, and elsewhere.
© 2013 Susan McLeish