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Mature gardening

Garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin explains how the older gardeners among us can get the most from their garden.

There's no way out of this - I'm getting older and my gardening needs to get easier. Some of the gardening jobs I've done for years without complaint, like climbing up trees to prune them, are becoming harder and I'm having to take more breaks when I dig over a border. But that's nothing to what it will be like for me in another 20 years.

I design gardens for all age groups, often for people coming up for retirement who enjoy gardening but want to make sure that its not going to become difficult as they get older. We also have a very special relationship with Age Concern, creating gardens for keen gardeners that require a number of different uses.

Able-bodied people often take gardening for granted while arthritis, visual impairment, and back problems may hamper gardeners from pursuing their hobby. There are lots of solutions and ideas to allow gardeners with mobility difficulties to get the best from their gardens.

Adapt your garden beds

One of the best elements to improve is to install raised beds or higher containers to minimise bending. They can be put virtually anywhere as long as you don't breach a house's damp protection course. Moveable planters are great for relocating according to the seasons and planting and a pot trolley allows easy moving.

Terracing of beds where levels allow can also be a good solution allowing easy access to planted beds. I've used a series of terraces, elevated beds and steps to create a vegetable garden where you can sit on the walls whilst gardening. The important elements to remember are to make the access wide, with a good 3' or 90cm width; make sure the surfaces are slip proof - check that paving meets British Standards for slippage; and beds are only as wide enough to ensure you can access them easily.

Get the right tools

I've already mentioned the pot trolley that is a new product that makes moving pots very easy. But also look at ergonomically designed short and long reach trowels, forks and spades. There are some great weeders available that allow you to weed and cultivate soil in a standing position. Pruners and loppers with ratchet mechanisms make these tasks much easier and double handled spades with longer handles are easier on your back.

Grow the right plant in the right place

When you select a plant think about what it's going to need in maintenance and how easy that will be for you. How much attention do you need to pruning, watering, dead heading and how easy is it for you to get to do this. I've found that raised beds are good for herbs and vegetables where they have free draining soil.

There are real benefits to gardening, particularly for the more mature gardener. Gardening may protect your mind against developing Alzheimer's disease, moderate exercise can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and gardening has been found to help prevent type II diabetes, heart disease and strokes. So there is every reason to keep gardening as you get older. Just remember to make it as easy as possible on your body and adapt your garden, tools and planting to suit the type of gardening you want to do.

Getting some extra help

There are some services available to get some general gardening help. These are usually available through local authorities - some provide extensive help but sadly not all. Contact your local authority for details or search on their websites.

I've found garden centres and nurseries can be really helpful when selecting the right plant so make sure you use their services and ask some questions about what maintenance a plant is going to need.

The charity Thrive is a great national horticultural charity that helps people with disabilities and older people to carry on gardening. You can find out more at www.thrive.org.uk. can be contacted on 020 8542 0683

By Andrew Fisher Tomlin

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