Guest Post: Gardening and Landscaping for Aging in Place by Fleeting Architecture’s Shenandoah Kepler

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I write a blog called “Fleeting Architecture” ( http://gardenaginginplace.com ) about my successes and failures to age in place in my garden. My Dear Husband (DH in my blog) is a talented photographer and takes beautiful pictures that I share in the blog.

There are many sites about aging in place on the web but there is not a lot of information about aging in place in the outdoors. There are a very few websites about accessible gardening, targeting those in wheelchairs, but nothing about do-it-yourself stuff or about using a cane or walker/rollator, so I thought I’d fill that niche as we baby boomers get older (oops! “more mature”) and share my experiences, both as advice and “lessons learned.”

I have tried to apply Alesha Churba’s guiding mantra, “Design with the Future in Mind,” to my desire to keep on gardening as I mature, making the work manageable and fun, no matter how aging affects me physically. I have had several scares due to falls, infections, etc., that have made me rethink how I garden and manage the risks inherent in this activity. As we get older, some of our friends have also had health issues that leave them less than able, and we wanted to make both the interior of our home — and our garden — “visitable” by everyone.

Fleeting Architecture (6)Just like Alesha’s guidance to think and plan for safety and low maintenance inside the home, that is what I have tried to do in my garden. We have over 2 1/2 acres of property in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC and it is like living at a resort, but the far reaches of the property are getting worked on less and less, as I tire easier because of the heat and humidity (and as I “mature”). DH cuts the lawn and does the heavy lifting, and I do the landscaping, weeding, and planting. We share pruning and have hired help come in to mulch the many planting beds.Fleeting Architecture (2)

In central Florida, we have a tiny plot (maybe 150 feet by 150 feet) with a double wide manufactured home on it that has sandy soil and is absolutely trouble-free to maintain at this point in our lives, and we live there from January through March each year. Neighbors have asked whether we have considered moving there when our Maryland property gets too much for us, and the answer is we have, but health care is a bit dicey in this part of Florida and that too is a major issue for us as we age.

We started the blog with posts on reducing risks of falling or hurting oneself gardening, such as making one’s garden paths wide enough for rollators and wheelchairs (or even wheelbarrows), then advanced to planning for reduced maintenance in the garden for the long haul. We also travel to nature preserves, National Wildlife Refuges, public gardens, etc. and now share our travel photos and comments on how accessible these locations are for those with walker/rollators or wheelchairs. An occasional post about aging in place gurus, such as Alesha, rounds out what we do and what we share on the blog.Fleeting Architecture (3)

Like my interviews with Alesha ( An Interview with Alesha Churba, Design With the Future in Mind ) and Laurie Orlov (An Interview with Laurie Orlove, Founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch ) have mentioned, we have found that baby boomers do not want to “go silently into that good night” – according to Senior Concerns, 40% of them have less than $10,000 saved for retirement and 55% have no will. I cannot imagine how the mere effects of aging are being ignored, denied, and mentally fought! So we have to find new ways to market to them without mentioning “aging.” You will notice that I am trying to use the term “maturing” (because “mature” has a whole different connotation!) but aging-in-place (AIP) has a certain traction for web searches so that it is difficult to give it up entirely.

Advice for those wanting to make their gardens more visitable and workable (think wheelbarrow):Fleeting Architecture (4)

  • Don’t install steps in the landscape; someone with wheels has to lift them up or down the steps!
  • Make sure the paths in your garden are at least 36 inches wide – that is what a wheelchaired visitor will need as well as a hoe laying over a wheelbarrow!
  • Make the path material as rigid as possible so that wheels don’t get bogged down in some soft material and make wheeling really difficult. A paving like concrete, stone, brick is ideal, but gravel that is well tamped might be okay too, depending upon how hard the resulting surface.
  • Don’t plant anything too spiney or thorny where a visitor might brush into it. Put soft, fragrant, brightly colored plants close to the path’s edge for visitors to notice, brush by, and touch and smell.
  • Make sure there are lots of stopping points and seating in the garden for those who have to rest in their travels around your garden.

Fleeting Architecture (5)Now what we need is more outdoor leisure and equipment manufacturers designing and offering tools and helps for outdoor safety as we mature. For example:

  • Something like grab bars in the garden that can be left in the garden
  • Hard surfaces that can be easily installed, even rolled out
  • Motorized golf-cart-like vehicles with space to transport pots, tools, weeds, and dirt
  • Motorized hand tools for weeding, pruning, cutting, etc., that don’t require much hand and wrist strength
  • Ramps and heavy-duty railings that are decorative like bridges, and balustrades

I’m sure lots of you out there reading this have more great ideas – leave a comment with some of your needs and wants! We’ll forward them on to companies and people who need to know and can respond.Fleeting Architecture- Make the path material as rigid as possible

Thanks, Alesha, for allowing me to guest blog and let you know what we gardeners are doing to “design with the future in mind”!

Thank you Shenandoah, for sharing some great advice and information! Readers~ please check out Fleeting Architecture -Diary of an Ancient Gardener: http://gardenaginginplace.com.

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