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Growing Elder

Listening to your inner horticultural therapist.


Spring garden tidy-up continues at Ditch Cottage, and a regime of horticultural therapy is also underway. To begin, I have enforced a morning stretching regime — a minimal endeavor practiced before rising — to alleviate aches associated with the bending, yanking and straining of basic yard work that awaits me.

Elaeagnus ebbingei should be grown more often in our area. It mounds luxuriously, boasts silvery green leaves and creates a fine year-round hedge.
(Photo by Vivian Savitt)

If I am in good-brain-mode, I remember to apply a SPF moisturizer to help resist the bloody cuts and ruts that mysteriously appear on my skin while outside. Mysteriously, because unlike Br'er Rabbit of "Uncle Remus" tales, I venture nowhere near a briar patch yet often look like I did. Although I perceive of my persona as thick-skinned, gamma rays and UV light have taken their toll. My skin is thinner and less pliant, vulnerable to boo-boos and scrapes.

Garden triage has become a fact as I grow elder. And I am not alone. Acquaintances over age 55 report similar woes. All of us conclude that although we are performing the same garden chores as in previous years, our fatigue factor has markedly increased. Furthermore, we feel more pain.

The culprit, of course, is an aging body, not mischievous garden fairies. So I have taken steps to keep my time in the garden enjoyable.


Now I work in 20-30 minute intervals, then change tasks. For example, after I've pruned for 20 minutes, I switch to watering or else sit on a patio chair, drink a glass of water and daydream. A change in body position, thereby muscle usage, can prevent muscle-specific strain. Day-dreaming anytime is excellent, relaxing mojo.

If you are not ready to transition to raised beds (including rubber tires, straw bales or water troughs) in an effort to moderate back or shoulder problems, use a chair or bench while working your regular flower beds. This narrows the span of your stretch and curtails pulled muscles.

garden 2
Outstanding shrub choices for our area include the hardy and beautiful nandina, mahonia and elaeagnus. Above: The yellow fluorescence of mahonia blooms in spring. (Photo by Vivian Savitt)

Other maladies can be diminished by using a range of gardening tools specifically designed to ease arthritic and joint pain. If a new tool enables the task at-hand to be accomplished faster and painlessly, the cost-benefit of purchasing one is obvious. Advantages are also derived from keeping your shovels, pruners and lopper sharpened, thus easier to use.

I first wrote about age-conscious design two years ago when highlighting Sydney Eddison's fine book, Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older (August 2012).

Among other advice, Eddison argues the value of replacing perennials with shrubs. The shrubs shown here seldom need pruning. Replacing perennial areas with shrubs eliminates strenuous tasks like dividing plants and bulbs, deadheading and stalking. By using shrubs, you reduce the size of the garden's most labor-intensive areas.

In the future, this column will continue to describe ways to help age-proof a garden and simultaneously become our own best horticultural therapists.



Garden News


Nandina berries are eye-stoppers. The shrub’s bamboo-like foliage also creates an Asian or contemporary ambiance that can serve as the framework for a garden theme. (Photo by Vivian Savitt)

Beginning this year, the Town and Country Garden Club will award grants in the $1,000-$5,000 range for projects that emphasize "environmental beautification or improve the quality of life for Silver City area residents." Grantees must be nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations.

Dr. Melinda L. McClanahan, TCGC president, reports that the club will continue to award their "Christmas Gifts" to Silver City nonprofit organizations who have demonstrated value to the local area. In 2013, McClanahan says, "This amounted to $26,400 in gifts to 22 organizations." Recipients included the Silver City, Bayard and Gila Valley Libraries, El Refugio, High Desert Humane Society and the Silco Theater Project.

A form describing the grant proposal procedure is available at the Town & Country Thrift Store, 606 N. Bullard St., open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The thrift store, an all-volunteer operation, is owned by TCGC and generates enough profit, McClanahan says, to "also support projects like workshops, seminars and WNMU scholarships."

McClanahan continues, "Our garden club's grant and fellowship activities are how we say, 'thank you, Silver City,' for supporting the thrift store."



Act Before They Go to Seed


The herb, rosemary, can reach four-feet heights and usually endures our winters if planted near a wall. The species pictured above has taken five years to reach optimum height.

Gila Hot Springs gardener Adrienne Knute reports success using a vinegar and salt mixture to eradicate the weed commonly called filaree or stork's bill (Erodium cicutarium). "The leaves," Knute says, "turn brown and blow away. I notice the best results on weeds without deep roots."

Knute combines the vinegar with one tablespoon of salt in a 32-ounce spray bottle.

Dr. Jamshid Ashigh, agricultural extension agent and weed specialist at NMSU, affirms that "vinegar is a contact herbicide that burns the plant's leaves if applied early. The gardener can also pull out the weed manually.

"Filaree," Dr. Ashigh continues, "is a winter annual that will not return if removed before it produces seed, usually in late spring."




Vivian Savitt gardens at Ditch Cottage in Silver City.



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