Thorny problems: how can I help my elderly mother garden?
Q: I live in London and am not a gardener, but I have an increasingly incapacitated mother in the country for whom growing things has always been a passion. She moved to a smaller paved garden years ago, but seems unable to stop herself growing too many things in seed trays each year, which she then struggles to plant. She then gets quite upset. How can I help her to change the habits of a lifetime?
“John Doe”, London
A: Far be it from me to ever discourage people of any age from growing things. To those of us who love it, gardening is absolutely what keeps us going, come rain or shine, through thick and thin. If yours is a typical mother, she is unlikely to take kindly to filial interference, so do tread carefully.
However, from what you say in your kindly and concerned email (the above is just a précis), your mother must obviously be persuaded in the first instance to grow fewer labour-intensive annuals from seed next year, and those she does grow should be limited to pinches of seeds in pots rather than whole packets of them in trays. If she just scales things down in this way, which is admittedly wasteful unless she shares seeds with friends, she will instantly give herself less work – pricking out seedlings, potting them on and planting them out being a painfully fiddly job even for the young and fit. And, incidentally, if she hasn’t already got one, a small potting bench or table at the right height might be helpful for all sorts of gardening business.
Stiff hands, creaky knees and achy backs are inevitably a problem for gardeners of advancing years, but there are little changes that might help. While trigger spray bottles are painful for arthritic fingers, a 1.25-litre pump-spray bottle (0121 313 1122; Hozelock), could be easier to manage. Your mother, you say, grows “too many” plants in small pots on her paving. I defy anyone with a passion for plants not to do this, but you could help her to get some of the hardier plants into the ground permanently, or to transfer others into bigger glazed containers or wooden tubs. A litter of little terracotta things dry out in a trice and are just asking to be tripped over, while larger containers grouped together pleasingly present less of a hazard and are easier to water and maintain. Where watering cans are inevitable, a small, lightweight, push-button watering can with a good long spout (Pinpoint, from the Miracle watering can range, 01983 537 408; miraclewateringcans.com) might be helpful and save effort, as would a short length of hose attached to a garden tap that can simply be flipped into a can standing on the ground.
published 24 June 2014