"A Day in the Garden" open house will be held Saturday, July 14, at the Carvel Research and Education Center.

Garden Smart

Sussex County Master Gardeners develop accessible gardening program

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10:27 a.m., July 9, 2012--Tracy Wootten knows all about the physical and emotional benefits of gardening. A horticulture agent for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Wootten maintains large vegetable and flower gardens at her Seaford home. It gives her a boost to be out in the garden, re-charging her batteries after a long day on the job.

But she also has seen how the pleasure of gardening can turn into frustration for those with physical limitations.

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“My mother-in-law has arthritis and certain garden tasks can be challenging for her,” says Wootten. “And, as my own parents age, I’ve seen them face difficulties in the garden, too.”

Helping gardeners cultivate their green thumbs despite mobility issues or other limitations is the goal of Garden Smart; Garden Easy, an accessible gardening program developed by the Sussex County Master Gardeners.

“I would hate to have all the good things associated with gardening -- physically, emotionally and socially -- taken away from my mother-in-law or any other gardener,” says Wootten. “Garden Smart; Garden Easy helps to remove barriers through creative adaptations of tools, techniques and garden lay-out.”

For example, the Master Gardeners might suggest raised beds for a person who has trouble bending or kneeling. These beds can be made with wide ledges so that gardeners can sit comfortably while they work or high enough so that they can stand (great for people with back trouble). Table-top gardens and container gardening can be solutions for people in wheelchairs or those with other mobility issues. 

Impediments to gardening aren’t always readily apparent, notes Wootten. A person might have trouble with eye-hand coordination or fine motor coordination; decreased strength, stamina or flexibility; poor balance; chronic pain; or increased sensitivity to heat, sun or cold.

Even gardeners without these kinds of barriers can find inspiration in Garden Smart; Garden Easy. For example, people who don’t have yards can turn to containers or table-top gardening. And the program is a source of ideas for gardeners like Wootten who are simply pressed for time.

“Garden Smart; Garden Easy suggests drip irrigation over hand-watering as a way to conserve your energy,” says Wootten. “I use soaker hoses to keep up with the garden when life gets extra busy. Otherwise, I’d be out there with a hose at 9 p.m., which is not the ideal time to water.”

Garden Smart; Garden Easy was launched in January 2011, says Bob Williams, chair of the Master Gardeners’ accessible gardening committee. The response from the public has been enthusiastic.

In the first six months of this year, the program reached more than 600 people through workshops at senior centers, garden clubs and therapy groups, as well as public events such as farmers markets and community fairs.

And any day of the week, visitors to the Demonstration Garden at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown can learn more about accessible gardening. Free self-guided tours of the garden are available from dawn to dusk. 

The accessible gardening area showcases several types of raised beds, including table gardens that can be moved to suit the needs of the gardener. It also features hanging baskets on pulleys that can be lowered for easy reach; containers filled with lightweight potting soil (sphagnum, moss and perlite reduce the weight); and benches placed in strategic spots for rest and enjoyment of the garden.

An open house will be held at the Demonstration Garden on July 14. Master Gardeners will explain how to use modify existing tools, such as using pipe insulation to increase the diameter of tool handles. Plus, there will be plenty of specially designed products and tools -- like wheelbarrows with two wheels in front.

“It’s rewarding to hear how Garden Smart; Garden Easy is making a difference in the lives of area gardeners,” says Wootten. “One gentleman sought our advice on ways to get his mother back into gardening after her physical limitations brought on depression. The Master Gardeners helped him modify his mother’s garden and now she is back to doing what she loves.”

'A Day in the Garden' open house 

On Saturday, July 14, visitors can learn all about accessible gardening at this free open house. 

Plus, there will be 20-minute workshops on shade gardening, saving money in the garden and how to make herbal vinegar and flavored honey. 

A plant sale will feature perennials, shrubs and trees. For children, there will be presentations of Peter Rabbit's Adventures in Farmer McGregor's Vegetable Gardenas well as scavenger hunts and other activities. 

The event will be held from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. at the Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Route 9, west of Georgetown. For more info, call 856-7303.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Michele Walfred

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