One aspect of my job as solo caregiver for my Mother, may she rest in peace, was to look for ways to facilitate Mom being able to participate in activities which she had always enjoyed. Mom had taken great pleasure in gardening since she was a little girl, as her Father spent many hours gardening in the yard of their home. As we get older, and mobility has perhaps been compromised, it often becomes impossible or unsafe to tend even a simple garden patch. Pulling weeds, planting seeds and pruning plants in the ground requires bending down to get to them. Bending down to the ground can increase the risk of a fall. For anyone who is challenged with mobility in general, the risk of falling over is something to avoid when possible. Raised garden beds can alleviate the risk of falling, allowing the gardener to sit while working.
As you can see in the picture, my Mother was able to use a wheelchair while gardening. Mom had advanced osteoarthritis and could not stand comfortably for any length of time. Bending over to pull weeks or prune flowers or tomato plants was no longer feasible for her to do. One day, old friends of ours came up with the idea of building a raised garden bed for us to use. I was, at the time, already providing solo full-time caregiving for Mom, and as I stated above, my job was to find ways for her to participate in life, but friends helped with this one.
Our friends had an old wooden single-bed waterbed frame which their son no longer used. They went by a garage sale and purchased an inexpensive wooden table and, after screwing an 8’x4’ piece of plywood to the frame of the bed, we constructed what is in the picture. We drilled holes through the plywood and the table, so that excess water could drain from the dirt when it rained. The table allowed my Mother to tend to the plants in the raised bed, while sitting in her wheelchair. I brought our wheelchair to the backyard for her to use when we were out there for any length of time. Once in a while, Mom could get by just using her two canes, as seen in the beet-harvesting photo. What a grand day that was!
Other Ways to Sit While Gardening
Raised garden beds are not the only way to involve our loved ones in gardening. The sequence of photos here show how Mom and I used our picnic table as a work bench, filling pots with dirt and seeds. I would fill an old cat litter container with our prepared soil. The container was placed next to Mom and her job was to fill each planter pot, and we went from there. After all my hard work (ha-ha-ha) I got to sit back while Mom used the broom to clean up.
By making use of our wheelchair in creative ways, Mom and I were able to enjoy time with each other while we planted, tended and then harvested a variety of produce and flowers in our back yard. We used large pots for carrots, beets and some flowers. Planting those pots was accomplished in somewhat the same manner as the smaller pots we worked with on the picnic table. I would prepare the soil in the pots, with Mom helping as she was able, generally using a small shovel to mix the dirt. I would pour some seeds into the palm of my hand, and Mom would take the seeds, one at a time, and place them in the pot’s dirt.
When we planted directly into the ground, it took some added preparation so that Mom could enjoy the experience and be helpful. An upside down plastic milk crate served as a table for our glasses of cold tea, as well as the seeds which are going to be planted. Mom sat in her wheelchair and handed me the seeds - in the picture shown it was peas - and I planted them. A note to be mindful of regarding using a wheelchair on the lawn – it was necessary to pull the chair backwards, so that the small front wheels would not dig into the grass and get stuck. Mom got used to this after a time or two, and I always went very, very slowly.
I close this section with these thoughts, Dear Reader, as I have enjoyed this trip down fond and loving memories of the years I was blessed to help my Mother in so many ways when her trail got rough. Whether you are a full-time caregiver, or a family member, neighbor or friend to someone who has mobility issues, we have it in us to be helpful to them. We can call on our creativity, our loving hearts, our caring and a bit of our time in order to assist someone else so that they can participate in activities they enjoy. It can be done, and it can be enjoyable for both parties, and the only ingredient necessary is for us to care enough to be giving of ourselves.
Building a Raised Garden Bed
An old friend of mine, Barb, had expressed an interest in gardening, but her ability to stand for any length of time is an issue, as is bending down for ground level gardening. Barb had been at my home, our home while my Mother was still alive, and had admired the raised garden bed that we had. So, we set about constructing one for her own use. I had a 4’x4’ piece of plywood, some L-shaped brackets, screws and the 2”x8” wood for the frame. Mom and I had purchased these items some years ago, but they never got used. They are now being used in a very good purpose!
Barb was so thrilled with the finished product, that we built her another one. Her good friend, Nick Landreth, was kind enough to allow me to work with him as we built another garden bed for Barb. Nick and I worked together on the first one as well. Barb and Nick and I went to a hardware store and purchased a 4’x4’ piece of plywood, two pieces of 2”x8”x8’ lumber and some L-brackets. I already had the two sturdy plastic sawhorses, so Barb’s total cost was about $50. And she made a nice meal for us all when Nick and I finished!
Nick and I took our time to measure twice and cut once, as we cut the lumber for the sides of the raised bed. The picture of Nick next to the work in progress shows the L-brackets he was screwing into place. My preference is to use screws rather than nails. The first raised bed we built can be seen behind Nick, with the seedlings that he and Barb have planted.
I have not been over to Barb’s place since we built her second raised garden bed, but I have no doubt that she and Nick have it filled with nice soil and planted with smiling flowers and vegetables. I hope that they have an overflowing bounty from their plantings. Again, Dear Reader, this raised garden bed is not a time-consuming item to construct, nor is it prohibitively expensive. Barb can now sit on a chair she keeps next to the planter beds, and enjoy something in which her mobility issues had prevented her from participating. I look forward to hearing from Barb and Nick when they discover that little plants grow up to be big plants and can easily take over a 4’x4’ raised bed. Mom and I made that discovery on our own 4’x8’ raised garden bed. It turned into a beautiful green jungle, as you can see here!
Aaron Ainbinder is the author of “Just Before the Stroke of Seven”