Gardening and Gardens for Retired Gardeners
Much is made nowadays of redundancy, early retirement and even with normal retirement at the age of 65, there is, we are told, the problem of increased leisure. This may well be a concern of great sociological significance but it is not, surely, one which affects gardeners of even moderate enthusiasm. Many people, rightly, look upon retirement as the moment to get on with things they have never had time to do before.
Without the rigid timetable of workday commuting and, when the children were young, no less demanding weekend excursions, a garden can at last be the oasis of peace and gentle pleasures. The suggestion is that there is now more time for. Yet there is no point in actually making work for the sake of it. Better then is it to realise that the usual seasonal tasks — the techniques of soil preparation for the kitchen garden or the tidying of the at the end of autumn — can be fitted in parallel with the vagaries of the weather and the condition of the soil. With more time available, the recommendations mentioned in an earlier section of this website of working with rather than against the elements become more practically possible.
It is this convenience which can makes retirement gardening positively easier than before. And it is just as well because one is less physically robust at 65 than at 40. In spite of that, it is wise to work towards a garden whose design does actually save effort, because a time will come when the more demanding tasks cease to be much of a pleasure. ‘Working towards’ indicates a time scale of some length and one, where the retirement gardening continues. Moving to a new home, with a bare uncultivated plot can be a daunting experience indeed.
The older, usually means that areas of mature shrubs or of shade beneath trees can be left without much effort being expended upon them if time or health does not permit. For as one gets older one presumably wants to spend time on the really profitable and the fully pleasurable. In spite of the apparent prospect of a vista of deliciously unprogrammed days and years stretching ahead, one frequently hears retired people say that they have never been so busy in their lives.
What is usually possible is to keep up the small, specialist cares which go with cultivation of a certain group of plants, whether it be Japanese chrysanthemums or species cyclamen. The day-to-day observation coupled with what practical help can be abstracted from the specialist texts frequently turn the interested amateur, who did what he could at weekends, to the acknowledged expert to whom others come for advice.
The ‘Gardener’s Den’
It becomes necessary yet again to ask the question, ‘what do I want?’ ‘And for whom?’ Oneseems particularly important; as the garden is likely to be used more frequently, the convenience of its parts and its buildings becomes vital. A garden shed which can only hold tools and the lawn mower is not big enough for a potting bench and for storing compost ingredients and such. Wherever possible it is very desirable for the keen retired gardener (however loving and supportive his wife) to have his own ‘den’ — a well-lit, heated workshop/ potting shed with water laid on.
The classic story comes to mind of a wife looking forward to her husband’s retirement but saying ‘I married him for better or for worse — but not for lunch’. People do need to be able to get on with their own ploys and in this context, while much concern is rightly given to the change in life-style of the man, that of the woman no longer alone for much of the day is equally cause for consideration.
Any such potting shed, then, needs something of a time and motion study done upon it with convenience and ease of work the keynotes. It is usual forand sand to be kept under the bench. Might it not be sensible to have help to get a bale of peat at a higher level to avoid continual bending. Everyone can work out his own needs in this line: doors should be wide enough to take a wheelbarrow or truck, racks for tools should be placed at the most convenient spot and height. Any space is best incorporated into this same complex, both for ease and for saving in heat. Potting shed and plant house therefore interrelate.
In the open garden the emphasis needs to be upon common sense and labour saving: more interrelationships here. Large areas of kitchen garden for the production of food to feed a family is no longer so necessary. What is needed are small quantities throughout the year, especially of those vegetables which quickly lose quality in the shops. It is very easy to maintain a twelve month supply of salads — so long as a dailyis not essential—with chicory, headed cabbage, winter , land and to give the winter supply. Small amounts of a number of things is wise. To facilitate this a vegetable plot can be divided into narrow strips, 1.2 m (4ft) wide, with 60cm (2ft) paving between. Such beds will take three rows 45 cm (8 in) apart very nicely, or a central row of with a lower catch crop of lettuce, turnip or radish on each side. Maintenance is easy and dry access for this and for harvesting is always there. On heavy it is worth raising the beds by a few inches, edging with upright paving, concrete blocks or treated timber held in place with pegs: the improved and soil structure will halve the physical effort needed. Note too should be taken of the ‘ ’ school of gardening. With sufficient organic material available for this has a lot to offer.
For the larger garden, if owners have not already become machine minded, retirement is the time to do it. Extravagant it may be, but a small sit-on mini-tractor is invaluable. It acts as a luxury wheelbarrow, will cut both rough grass and lawn grass—all permitting a standard of cultivation that would be exhausting by other means. Suitable machinery for small-scale ploughing and subsequent arable cultivation of vegetable plots is not easy to find. Some cultivators are too light, others impossibly heavy to manoeuvre. Nonetheless, if one wishes to deal with relatively large areas and has some ‘feel’ for the internal combustion engine (there is nothing more useless than motorised equipment that does not work, and nothing more expensive than continual visits from the garage) serious consideration coupled with effective demonstrations from the retailers should be given to this aspect of garden aid.
On a smaller scale it is narrow minded not to keep reasonably abreast of improvements in herbicides and. It is undesirable to turn the plot into a small-scale chemical warfare unit but if, for instance, the choice is between scrapping the bed because weeding on the knees is just not on, or using a couple of applications of weedkiller, the latter would seem to be more sensible. Similarly, with being their usual pestilential selves on the roses, it is reasonable to use a systemic insecticide very infrequently rather than having to rush out weekly with the -leaf water, however temporarily effective. One cannot, blindly, accept all the optimistic blandishments of the chemical firms—but progress is made and should be accepted with gratitude.
Gardening for the Disabled
Emphasis so far in this section has been upon enjoying the retirement garden and reducing and making labour more logical. However, there are occasions when sadly the problem is more serious. People just cannot bend down or are quite unable to get about without aid. Yet gardening still provides a major pleasure. If it does the idea of giving it up entirely is a quite unnecessary wrench. Possibilities are several: a terrace area adjoining the house, with no steps in between, can have all beds raised to table-top height with a width of about 1.25 m (4ft). They can be used for ornamental plants and are referred to in the section on ‘Rock Gardens’, but there is no reason why they could not be used for vegetables or, brought on early with .
Certainly losing fresh vegetables would be a major tragedy if gardening became impossible. It would be worth exploring the possibility of letting a neighbour with no or too little garden, take over an otherwise unused kitchen garden plot in return for a few vegetables. Merely to know it was not going to rack and ruin would give much reward.