Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, one that can benefit people both mentally and physically, as well as provide fresh and healthy food. “Gardening gives me control over something in a situation where I don’t always have control,” says Laurie Reiser, diagnosed with MS in 2003. “No matter where you live, or who you are, you can garden.”
Reiser is a Colorado Master Gardener who teaches adaptive gardening in the western part of the state through the local extension office of Colorado State University. “Adaptive gardening is simply about creating your own space,” she emphasizes. “There are lots of ways to adapt. You can put a garden at your height—on a patio, balcony, railing, steps, cinder blocks, window ledge or tabletop you can roll up to.”
Reiser points out that people need little more than a patch of ground to get started—and that patch of ground can even be in a container. Nowadays, there are few limits to what can be grown in pots. “Breeders have come up with plants that are compact—and containers need less weeding,” Reiser points out.
A garden open to all
Enabling Gardens in Angleton, Texas, south of Houston, focuses on containers and raised beds, according to Cynthia Leonard, one of two dozen active volunteers. “We welcome groups and individuals, anyone who wants to learn how to do accessible gardening,” she says.
Participants learn how to use rain barrels and raised beds, and to garden most suitably for their climate. The garden has 18 planter boxes of different sizes, some of which “have a horizontal board across the top where people can sit and work on the bed.”
It also features an A-frame trellis called a “cattle panel” that vines, squash and cucumbers grow on. “Someone in a wheelchair can roll under it and reach right up and pick fruits and vegetables,” says Leonard, who was diagnosed with MS in 1997.
Leonard’s been gardening for seven or eight years, starting with flowers in pots, then moving on to tomatoes. She and her husband “picked beets and mustard greens in January, and we had fresh tomatoes for Christmas dinner,” she says. “It sure is nice to be able to step outside and get good fresh vegetables. I know how they’ve been grown and what’s been put on the soil. Gardening gives me a sense of peace and well-being.”
Gardening is a “hot” activity in more ways than one. To beat the sun, do outdoor work early or late in the day. Set up a shady rest area with a stool or folding chair on a deck, or under a tree, umbrella or arbor. Wear a hat, gloves and a cooling vest, or carry a spray bottle filled with cool water. (Call 1-800-344-4867 for information about cooling resources or visit www.msassociation.org/programs/cooling.) Set a timer to remind you when to take a break.
Ergonomic gardening tools, such as add-on handles for trowels or extendable hoes, can help make gardening tasks easier. Go to www.abledata.com and search for “garden tools” to get an idea of what’s available.
Reiser suggests enlisting a buddy, such as a friend or volunteer from a Scout troop or 4-H club, to help with tasks like hauling bags of potting soil. Local community gardens, botanical gardens or garden clubs may also offer communal space and resources. Search online for barrier-free, adaptive or accessible gardening or ask your public library if they have any books on the topic to get an idea of what’s possible. And then in a few months, enjoy the fruits—literally—of your labors!
Laurie Reiser (left) and volunteers transfer plants to a raised bed.
Invitamos a las personas hispanas/latinas con esclerosis múltiple a participar una vez al mes en un grupo telefónico gratis totalmente en español. Para más información o para inscribirse llame al 1-800-344-4867, opción 3.
(Hispanic /Latino people with MS can participate by phone in a free monthly Spanish-language support group. For more information, call 1-800-344-4867 and press 3.)