Dirt therapy: Gardeners with limitations benefit from the right tools, techniques
May 1, 2011
Gardeners daydream all through the winter about this time of year, but for those with physical limitations, spring may be cruel because they think they can't indulge in their favorite activity. Not so, say the recreational therapists at Trinity Medical Center. With a few adjustments in how they work, gardeners of all abilities can keep the dirt under their fingernails.
The time and energy involved to weed and water makes gardening an excellent form of therapy, says recreational therapist Kate Parr. In fact, for many patients, digging in the dirt accomplished more than traditional physical therapy techniques. "It's good for physical, social and emotional functioning," she explains.
Stacia Carroll, a fellow recreational therapist at Trinity, agrees. "Gardening is great (as physical therapy) because it works on endurance and strength," she says.
Because of this, an adaptive garden is maintained at Trinity. The garden allows the therapists to assist patients in working through any challenges that might arise while the patients get some hands-on experience with different gardening methods.Some of the patients have an interest in gardening but haven't been active in the garden in some time. The recreational therapists show them how to adapt their past practices to their current abilities. Others are new to gardening entirely.
The biggest challenge for many gardeners is being able to reach their plants, say Trinity's recreational therapists. Arthritis patients and those in wheelchairs can't always reach the ground. "We tell them to move the garden up to them," says Parr. "Try container gardens, raised beds and boxes, or hanging gardens -- anything, as long as it doesn't require stooping and bending. If that's not possible, use lightweight, long-handled tools." Companies like OXO make products that have larger, more ergonomic handles. In the Quad-Cities, Teske Pet and Garden Center and Wallace's Garden Center carry some OXO products and can order others.
Buying adaptive gardening tools doesn't have to break the bank, according to Carroll, who says many affordable gardening items can be found at dollar stores.She recommends looking in other aisles beyond the gardening department. Take the toy section, for example. "Children's gardening tools are good because they're lightweight," says Carroll. And they work.
Of course, it's not always necessary to buy new tools; sometimes you can improvise something better with items found around the house, says Parr. One recent gadget put together by the therapists to make a tool easier for a patient to grip was made from an oven mitt, Velcro and D rings. Bicycle grips and cushioned baseball tape also can be used on tools a gardener already owns to improve grip."The tools you can buy can be pricey, but you can adapt things with Velcro," explains Parr.
Other adaptive strategies are more straightforward. Sitting in a chair makes it easier to reach weeds and plant seeds, for example, and making sure the chair is lightweight makes it easier to move down the row. Watering wands attached to hoses allow gardeners to reach farther, both up and down. Spring release tools make pruning easier, while cordless power tools are lightweight and easy to carry around without worrying about tripping or running over cords.
Hillary Milo, another recreational therapist at Trinity, says there are many ways to make seed and bulb planting easier. She recommends using pepper shakers to sprinkle seeds or planting strips of seeds. Many seed catalogs carry seed tapes, which are biodegradable strips embedded with small seeds like lettuce and carrots. There are also several websites that show how to make homemade seed tapes. "You can use PVC pipe to plant bulbs or plants," says Milo. "You put one end over the hole and drop the plant or bulb down the other end." A long-handled hoe can be used to firm the dirt over the plant or bulb.
Gardening doesn't always have to mean digging around in the backyard, either. Parr suggests rethinking the definition. "Try tabletop water gardens, hydroponics on a small-scale or terrariums," she says. Tools for this kind of gardening are not only lightweight but often can be found around the home, such as chopsticks or miniature tools normally used for decoration.
Milo believes all the work involved in adapting gardens and tools are worth it. "The patients love it, but it takes some coaxing," she says. "One gentleman was thrilled to garden again. He said, 'I have something that changes everything.' Sometimes they just need a push and guidance to do it again."
By Sharon Wren
Source: Radish Magazine