More older adults facing tough decisions about gardens, landscaping

Some plants and tips can make it easier.

Barbara Travis, right, hired Greta Graebner to take care of her flower beds because Travis no longer can maintain them herself. A growing number of older adults are finding themselves in the same situation. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Simone Alberding and her husband, Stephen, have helped rescue plants from the homes of older adults who no longer care care for their flower beds or landscaping. Local Purdue Master Gardener volunteers go dig up plants the older person wants saved and then find new home for them by selling them in the annual Master Gardener plant sales. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Sedum Autumn Joy is a late summer-blooming, low-maintenance plant that works well for older adults' gardens. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Ricky Kemery, retired horticulture educator at the Allen County office of the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.

Barbara Travis used to spend 6-8 hours a day working on the flower beds and landscaping around her southwest Fort Wayne home.

“I physically am not able to do it anymore,” said Travis, 84, a former Purdue Master Gardener volunteer.

Recently, she spend two hours working in the yard in the heat and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia, she said.

So Travis removed some of her flower beds and hires Greta Graebner, another local Master Gardener, to take care of her weeding and other gardening chores.

An increasing number of older adults find themselves wrestling with the same challenge — struggling to take care of the flowers and landscaping they worked hard to create, or pulling it out or hiring someone to do the work, said Ricky Kemery, recently retired horticulture educator for the Allen County office of the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.

The problem could get even bigger: By 2033, Kemery said the number of people age 65 and older will be greater than the number younger than that age. The number of older adults also is projected to double by the year 2060.

“The Catch 22 of gardening and seniors is that gardening is good for seniors,” Kemery said. “It makes them healthier and in a better mood. But it can be too much, and it takes stamina.

“The trick is to manage the gardens so they can be managed and enjoyed,” he added.

While at the extension office, Kemery used to receive calls from older adults seeking help with their gardening and landscaping. One response has been the local Master Gardener group forming a plant “rescue” team to go dig up and save plants a person no longer can care for on his or her own.

The team has averaged four or five rescue digs each spring for the past five years, said Simone Alberding, the lead coordinator of Master Gardeners’ annual May and June plant sales.

They rescue shade and sun perennials, house plants, and small shrubs and trees that will transplant easily, Alberding said.

“A lot of people put a lot of time in their property over the years, and it’s hard,” Alberding said. “They don’t want new owners to come in and bulldoze everything.”

Rescued plants go into the Master Gardener plant sales, Alberding said. Proceeds from the sales go toward maintenance of the Display Gardens around the extension office at 4001 Crescent Ave. on the IPFW campus.

Travis has been going through the scaling-back process at her home.

“When you love flowers, you just keep adding,” she said of her younger days.

She hired Graebner because she wants to keep both her yard and her neighborhood looking nice, she said.

“A lot of people really appreciate their yards and are distressed when they can’t keep it up,” said Graebner, who also works for a few other older clients.

She’s happy she can help people such as Travis continue to enjoy their gardens.

Helping seniors continue gardening

Ricky Kemery, former horticulture educator at the Allen County office of the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, and local Master Gardener volunteers Greta Graebner and Simone Alberding offer these gardening tips for old adults:

* Install smaller flower beds or a fewer number of garden beds.

* Make raised flower or garden beds because they are easier to reach.

* Plant low-maintenance plants.

* Plant perennials in large groupings of two to four plants so they fill up the space and leave less room for weeds.

* Dig one large hole for planting several plants rather than numerous small holes.

* Scratch up the soil and sprinkle on inexpensive, direct-seeded flowers, such as cosmos, zinnias or strawflowers.

* Grow flowers or vegetables in containers.

* If you want to cut your lawn, use an electric mower because they are lighter and easier to maintain.

* If you have more plants than you can care for, give some away.

* Avoid planting invasive species or other plants that spread quickly.

* In the fall, cut back perennials to the ground and rake out all plant debris and leaves to prevent problems with fungus, mold and insects.

* Where a whistle or carry a cell phone when gardening in case you fall or get dizzy.

* Place stools or resting places around the garden so you can rest while working.

* Gardening equipment designed for seniors may be helpful, such as tools with larger handles.

5 favorite flowers for seniors

Ricky Kemery recommends older adults plant these five low-maintenance flowers:

* Large, vigorous varieties of daylilies

* Perennial salvias

* Sedum Autumn Joy

* Walker’s Low Catnip

* False sunflower

Native grasses also look good when planted in mass groupings.

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