InsideMS, Winter 2002, Vol. 20, Issue 1
by Martha Jablow
From California to Vermont, readers responded to our request to share gardening experiences. Some are green green-thumbs. Others have been avid gardeners for years. Here are some of their ideas about handling familiar MS problems.
"I start early in the day," said Susan Hutcherson of Colorado. She wears a big hat and a gel-filled cooling tie around her neck or as a headband. "I take breaks so I don't wear myself out, and I let others help me with heavy work. I've bought long-handled tools with good grips to make my work easier."
In Virginia, "an area with hot, humid summers," Jane Kirk always listens to the weather forecast the night before she plans to garden. She too finds 7 a.m. "a wonderfully peaceful time of day!" Ms. Kirk works in a cooling vest, which has pockets that hold frozen gel packets, and carries a bottle of ice water and paper towels, so a damp towel and a cold drink are always at hand. (Vests are available from Steele Vest at 888-783-3538 or http://www.steelevest.com/.)
Organization fights fatigue. Ms. Kirk wears a gardener's bag with pockets for her trowel, string, clippers, and such, and keeps larger items in a plastic storage box in the back garden so she won't have to go to the front of the house for them.
"Knee pads are essential if you have hypersensitivity in your legs," said Donna Bohannan of Colorado. Negotiating her lawn was a challenge until she obtained a walker with eight-inch balloon wheels, a seat, basket, and brakes, made by Nova Ortho-Med (on the Web at: http://www.novaortho-med.com/ or call toll-free 800-557-6682 and ask about retailers in your area).
Ms. Bohannan recommends attaching an umbrella to a cart, scooter, or walker. She also fastens a plastic tube with tiny holes to her hose so she can garden in a cooling mist. (A ready-made version called the Viper Mister is available from Island Pools-800-441-7789-for $20. It has a six-foot tube that can be twisted around a chair arm or tree branch.)
Cheri Dahlstrom of Michigan grows perennials because they require less work than annuals, which must be planted each year. "Another trick is soaker hoses," she said. "Each spring I lay them out, and with one turn of a spout, the gardens are watered." Soaker hoses have hundreds of small pores along their length. Water seeps out into the soil, straight to a plant's roots, which conserves water as well as energy.
Kimberly Childers of California has written garden columns for several publications. "Gardening has been a love forever. It's very therapeutic for me. I walk, but I totally pace myself and have even gardened by the light of the moon."
Sandy Dywan of Indiana received a Yard Butler as a gift. It has slots for tools, buckets, and other supplies. "It's a real step-saver, and so stable I can use it to get up and move around the yard!" A plastic garbage pail on wheels does this job for other gardeners and is less expensive.
To avoid bending, kneeling, and back strain, many gardeners raise the soil level. Ray Fortin of Vermont used railroad ties to build his wife a raised flowerbed 32 inches high and 80 feet long. "No more bending and losing my balance. The height is just right for me to work from my scooter," Gloria Fortin said.
If you don't have space for an 80-foot raised bed, container gardens are a wonderful option. The choice of container is almost endless, as long as the bottom can be filled with pebbles or a sand and vermiculite mix for drainage. Containers go in big spaces or small ones, in sun or shade, up on tables or ledges, down on decks or steps. And they are fine for more than flowers. A gardener since his teens, Gary Pentz of Pennsylvania plants vegetables in pots around his patio. In Idaho, Betty Call grows giant begonias, spike plants, and blue trailing lobelia in boxes that can be moved around her yard for the shade that keeps them beautiful. Containers that don't have wheels can be placed on wheeled platforms. "
There's one good thing about MS: I get to play in my yard more than I used to," wrote Tammy Hicks O'Briant from North Carolina. Her husband built her a greenhouse and a 300- gallon pond with a small waterfall. When she needs to relax, she watches their 20 goldfish.
Since her MS diagnosis a decade ago, Debbie Stilkey's gardening techniques have changed a bit. She was a master gardener with the University of Idaho for 11 years. She uses a walker in the house, a wheelchair to get out, and a batterypowered cart in the garden. " There are still many things I can do myself, and many things I notice more than I used to-like hummingbirds and butterflies."
Susan Hutcherson summed it up this way: "Being surrounded by nature and tapping into my creative energies has given me a sense of balance and accomplishment. That helps me deal better with my MS."
Fiskars Consumer Products, 2537 Daniels Street, Madison, WI 53718, specializes in low-effort tools with soft grips, cultivators with flat ends, pruners that roll with your hand as you cut, and more. Tel: 608-259-1649; Web site: http://gardening.fiskars.com/.
The Step2 Company, 10010 Aurora- Hudson Road, Streetsboro, OH 44241, sells the Yard Butler. Suggested retail price $45. Tel: 800-347-8372 or go to http://www.step2company.com/.
Achievable Concepts (http://www.achievableconcepts.com.au/) features "no-bend gardening", including raised beds on wheels, long-handled, lightweight tools, and a "tap twister" that fits over an outside faucet handle to make turning easier. The company also sells horticultural therapy publications.
Garden centers everywhere stock soaker hoses, tool aprons, wheeled platforms for planter boxes, and similar items-because gardeners of all abilities want to reduce effort and maximize results.
VISIT! Your nearest public garden is your ally and inspiration. Many, like the Chicago Botanic Garden (847-835-5440), Denver Botanic Gardens (720-865-3500), or the Enid A. Haupt Glass Garden in New York City (212-263-6058) have programs on accessible gardening. The American Horticultural Therapy Association (tel: 800-634-1603; Web site: http://www.ahta.org/) can tell you about gardening programs in your area.
BROWSE! Get garden magazines and seed catalogs, but beware of being carried away by beautiful pictures. Mail-order supply companies are rated on a nice Web site: http://www.gardenlist.com/.
READ! These books may be especially appropriate: Accessible Gardening for People with Disabilities by Janeen R. Adil, $16.95 plus $4.50 shipping & handling, 300 pp., Woodbine House, tel: 800-843-7323, Web site: http://www.woodbinehouse.com/
The Enabling Garden by Gene Rothert, $13.95, 160 pp., Taylor Trade Publishing,
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society