Author, Colorado State University Department
Whether it is a large garden, a window box, or just a couple of houseplants, don't dismiss the benefits of gardening. Gardening can play a big role in improving the quality of life. For many medical patients whose conditions and treatments have made them feel dependent on others, having living plants to nurture reverses that role. The patient becomes the care giver and he or she may develop a renewed sense of purpose.
Horticulture therapy has been proven to help people who are physically disabled, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, elderly, substance abusers, public offenders, and socially disadvantaged. Tending plants can increase self-esteem, alleviate depression, and improve physical strength and motor skills. Gardening also lowers stress and increases relaxation. Raised beds, containers and vertical gardens can make gardening easier and more accessible. Many botanical gardens have examples of these types of gardens.
Gardeners, whether old or young, with special needs should take special precautions in caring for themselves while gardening. It's easy to lose track of time while working with plants. If the weather is very hot, garden in the morning or evening hours when the sun is not so direct. If you are out during the day, wear a hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. Use sun screen. Limit your time in the sun, take frequent breaks, and drink plenty of liquids.
There are many devices that make gardening easier for any green thumb. There are rolling carts that carry tools and work as a seat. Bending and pulling weeds from a standing position for a long time will guarantee sore muscles and pain for days. Go slow and pace yourself. Do some warm-up stretches before you start and cool-down stretches after you finish.
Improper lifting and carrying in the garden may cause many related injuries. When possible, use a cart or wheelbarrow to move large or heavy items. Use proper lifting techniques and lift smoothly; don't jerk. If an item is too heavy, get help.
Tools also have improved. Tools with long, large, and sometimes foam-padded handles are easier to manipulate. Drip irrigation systems eliminate the need to drag hoses around.
Many enjoyable hours can be spent in the garden and it's especially nice to have some colorful plants around in the winter.
Resources: Colorado State University. Found at: http://www.ext.colostate.edu