Gardening on Wheels

A handicapped gardener gets her lifelong dream.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY LINDA COOK DEVONA

The first time I got interested in growing something I was 7 or 8. I saw my mom break a leaf off her philodendron and put it in water to start a new plant. I watched it diligently every day—and when it took root, I was fascinated! I went into the kitchen, emptied all the plastic ice cube trays from the freezer, and filled them with water. I proceeded to strip all of Mom’s plants and put one leaf in each ice cube compartment. Boy, did I get in trouble. But a week later, Mom had about 40 new philodendrons!

I was disabled when I was very young. My spine is virtually rigid, so I cannot lean down to touch the ground. Consequently, my gardening was limited to flower pots and indoor plants for many years. But I had once helped my grandmother pick tomatoes, and I loved that. Flowers in pots just didn’t
feel the same. I wanted to grow things to eat!

The “pocket” hose worked well, but I rolled over it once when it was on—and it exploded!

When I got married, I wanted to plant a tomato in a pot on the deck. But my ever-practical husband pointed out that he had about 20 tomato plants, along with just about every other vegetable, in his huge garden, which was not accessible to me. Our house did have an L-shaped staircase in the front with a small elevated patch of ground I could reach. I tried to grow flowers there. But I couldn’t get water to them, so they all died.

And that was pretty much it for my adult gardening career.

Jumping forward many years, I now use a wheelchair and live in a retirement community. My patio was accessible by wheelchair, but it was so bare! I came across a website for raised beds and was fascinated. I might be able to have my veggies yet!

I purchased a kit that was 8’x2’x1’ deep, made out of cedar with metal corners and legs. We have a woodshop here where residents can do all kinds of crafts. Some of them put the kit together for me and delivered it to my patio. I was getting excited! Filling it with soil was actually the hardest part (it took a lot of dirt!), but a friend helped me get a good-quality potting soil and all-purpose fertilizer. I was off and running!

The staff at my local nursery became some of my best friends—we are literally on a first-name basis. I learned so much about plants and gardening from them. I even took the free classes they offered on different types of gardening.

I tend to experiment. If I’m not sure something will grow, I just give it a try and find out. I found some plants grew well, but are not practical for tending from a chair. Regular-sized tomatoes, pole beans, and pepper plants, for instance, grow amazingly well, but I can’t reach their tops to harvest them. Cherry or patio tomatoes, bush beans, and pepper bushes work much better. Lettuce, spinach, chives, and green onions are also prolific in my little patio boxes—and I love picking fresh veggies for salads.

I was disappointed to discover that my raised beds were just not deep enough for root vegetables. So, back to the drawing board! My friends at the woodshop built me a wooden frame, 6’x2‘, with no bottom that sits on the ground. I filled it with potting soil—and this year will have carrots, potatoes, and onions!

One of the biggest challenges of being a gardener on wheels has been finding a watering hose I can manage from a chair. I first used a regular hose, but it was heavy and a nightmare for me to untangle. The “pocket” hose I saw advertised is supposed to retract automatically. It worked well and was light enough, but I rolled over it once while it was on—and it exploded! I now have a spiral hose. If I’m careful not to let it tangle when I put it away, it works OK. A short wand on the end works great. The longer ones are unwieldy. I end up with me and my chair soaked!

I also like trowels and rakes with padded handles. Working the soil while seated can be awkward, and these handles are easy to grasp and don’t slip. And tomato cages are my best friends! They are good to support peppers and bush beans, too.

The advantages of raised beds are enormous. For one thing, rabbits can’t get in! Squirrels can, but I have been amazed that they don’t bother my plants…at least (cross my fingers) not yet! I was afraid deer would think I‘d put out a buffet for them, but (fingers crossed again) I have only had one incident of them eating anything. And weeds rarely grow.

Disadvantage? The dirt that gets in my lap when I get sloppy with digging!

Now I have three beds for veggies and one for flowers. Each Summer I raise enough for me to eat, along with some to freeze and extra to give my neighbors.

And you know what? Digging in the dirt really is just as therapeutic as I imagined for all those many years!


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