Meridian Star

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August 18, 2013

Simple concepts make accessible gardening

MERIDIAN — Daily heat indexes routinely above the century mark make indoor air conditioning feel really fantastic and outdoor activities a challenge, but I’ve recently joined the ranks of gardeners who face a challenge unrelated to the weather.

    Currently, I’m a frustrated gardener who wants to get out into the heat and tinker in the garden. I had a total knee replacement in July, and I need assistance with normal daily activities, let alone the landscape.

    I know in the fairly near future I will catch up on landscape duties I have missed, but this experience has reminded me that there are many others who love to garden but can’t because of more serious or long-term conditions.

    The gardening and landscape industry is acutely aware of this segment of the population, and there is a lot of interest and effort in increasing accessibility to the landscape.

    Each year various polls indicate that gardening is a top homeowner choice for favorite and most popular hobby. Even in the hot summer, gardening is one of the few activities that can actually have a higher return on investment in terms of joy and satisfaction gained from the work and maintenance that goes into a garden and landscape.

    A common problem many gardeners such as I have is a bad back. Gardening activities that require kneeling or bending over send many reaching for the heating pad and painkillers. Bad backs may help explain why raised garden beds are gaining in popularity. The benefits to the plants are many, but I suspect their increased use is really an accessibility issue.

    Many garden and landscape shows and field days demonstrate different ideas for raised-bed gardening.

    The Fall Flower and Garden Fest held each year at Mississippi State University’s Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs always has an outstanding display of accessible gardening ideas. I really like one planter with a design similar to a stepladder. Window boxes are placed as the steps, allowing gardeners easier access for watering and harvest without bending.

    Tabletop gardens are perfect for those who require the help of wheelchairs or scooters. It is a fairly easy thing to raise the growing bed to the needed height.

    Another easy way to raise the garden to accessible heights is to grow your plants in plastic gutters attached to the fence. I use this “gutter garden” in my own yard to grow colorful pansies and violas in the cooler months.

    Gutter gardens are really not a new idea. Commercial hydroponic vegetable growers have been using gutters for quite a while to help control the water needed in their operations. The beauty of this design is that the gutter can be placed at any height to accommodate the gardener.

    Another popular vertical garden idea uses square bales of hay to grow vegetables. Transplants from lettuce to tomatoes are placed in the hay and grown above ground. Stack more than one square bale to achieve the height needed for accessibility from a standing or sitting position.

    Making the garden more easily reached and maintained means that everyone – no matter their degree of mobility – can take advantage of the benefits a garden can provide.

    • Dr. Gary Bachman is an assistant Extension research professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.

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