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tony_gw

what do you do when the one you love can't garden anymore?

tony
20 years ago

My mom has recently come down with debilitating back problems that severely limits her range of motion. It came down suddenly, within the last six weeks, although I suspect the condition was manifested in her lower back long ago.

She loved doing all sorts of gardening stuff, including weeding, pruning, trimming bushes, planting to just admiring the beauty of her garden. She would spend all evening out in the garden at times. Now, all she can do is sit down in a chair and stare out the back with a sad staring glaze to her eyes. It really hurts me to see her in this way, and I cannot do all the gardening things she loves for her. Sometimes I can feel she wants to cry, but is holding back to defy any weakness in her emotional strength, but I know it is taking a huge toll on her,not just physically, but emotionally as well. It is taking a toll on me, too.

I am afraid of what the prognosis will be after she gets word from the specialist next week after her CT scan. I think she is getting worried. So am I. I cannot show any signs of weakness, since her emotional state right now is quite fragile and might aggravate her situation.

What can I do???

Comments (21)

  • mrsbeasley
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    When I was first diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, it seemed like the end of the world for me. It was like I was mourning for all the things I'll never do again. And when I developed the back problems I have, I resigned myself to a sedentary life, where I'd have to watch the rest of the world do the things I loved, and the things I wanted to do. But both of those things happened in the winter, and by spring I was improved. I'll never be well, but I try to concentrate on the things I am able to do.

    I started slowly, with a 4' x4' square compost bin, which I planted cucumbers in the first year. But when I had planted the cucumbers, I didn't have a compost bin, so I had my DH build me another one 4 feet away. That fall, I had him join the two together, so the next spring I had a raised bed 4 feet wide, by 12 feet long. But I needed a place for my compost. So another bin was built. etc.

    I love my raised beds. I can sit on the edge of them, and reach the middle by either side. Is your mom able to get out to a raised bed if one were built for her? Is she able to sit on the edge?

    My suggestion is to concentrate on what she can do. By the sound of your letter, she'll never get down and dirty again, but I'm sure she'd love some containers that she can reach, even some hanging baskets where she loves to sit.

    Maybe she'll be better next summer, in any case some planters around her, will surely lift her spirits.

    Oh, one thing that ticked me off so badly the first couple of summers I was unable to do for myself--was people not listening to me. I remember hiring a man to plant tulips, I wanted clusters or boquets of them, and I explained it very clearly to him. I told him I wanted a hole this big dug over there, and I want you to plant (I think it was) 7 or 9 bulbs in each hole. "Plant them in a cluster" I said, "Plant them in a circle, with a couple in the middle"
    Of course it wasn't until the following spring that they came up, all in single file, and exactly 6 inches apart. They looked so stupid, and I had paid money to that guy to do what I wanted, and he did as he pleased. Just because someone is infirm or in a wheelchair, doesn't mean their wishes can be ignored. I'm a lot more vocal now, and I'm a little more mobile, but that pretty well corked it for my flowers in the ground. Everything is in raised beds now, and I add a little more every year.

    My suggestion is to start with a big planter that she can control, start small and add to it every year.

    MrsBeasley

  • bulldinkie
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Bring the garden in doors. Gets pots of some vegetables,flowers.Im the type you tell me no,I KNOW THERES A WAY> Ill go till I find it.Thats what got me into gardening .My mom would make vegetable soup i d take carrot tops,sweet potato plant.turnip tops.Id put them on window sill.They got beautiful accually..

  • ellen_
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Tony,
    Adapt the garden to what she can manage. It's good for her to have activities she can get into. My biggest suggestion is houseplants. I adapted to having lots of them, including orchids, when I lived in an apartment years ago on the second floor and didn't have an inch of ground to call my own. In my case, life changed as did my location and I moved to outside. Now don't have the right exposures for houseplants. But could go back to that in a minute if I had to.
    I'm not sure where you live, but if climate permits, let her start seeds inside, don't take a whole lot of strength except as plants multiply and get larger ready for first planting. Let her go through all the catalogs and order plants and/or seeds she can care for inside or outside.
    Changing the type of gardening is what you're looking for, not eliminating it.
    Good luck.

  • reddy
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I agree, adapt the garden to what she can do. It helps to raise the beds about 3 ft off the ground and build a sitting bench on each edge for her to sit. Also, use good potting soil so it doesn't take much effort for her dig into. Also, you can plant lots of hosta or other plants that don't need lots of care. You can build or buy a nice table to store a nice container garden and here she can still work in the soil.

  • grandmabrown
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    This is my first posting, and I really like all of your suggestions. My husband is a paraplegic confined to bed 95% of the time because of post-polio syndrome related weakness and pain. I live in southwestern Arizona where it is hot, hot, and hotter and have a garden in pots consisting of tomatoes, green pepper, and strawberries. I
    like the idea of a raised garden and my garden area is perfect for it. Does anyone have any idea where I can get info on building a raised garden? Just maybe I could get my husband interested in it.

  • mehitabel
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    workers that won't listen? I don't think it has anything to do with a person being disabled. But I have always found garden help will not listen to women or do as they ask, even many years ago when I could outdig them all. They don't argue, just say nothing and then do as they please.

    Infuriating to be patronized by people who know so much less about gardening than you.

  • mehitabel
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Tony, you don't describe what the specific limits your mother has are, but here is what I think.

    All the posters who have mentioned making it possible for her to just do whatever she can are right. For a gardener, just having a lavender to stick a nose into, or something to pinch the ends of, or a dead flowerhead to lop off, or some thyme to put in a pot is wonderful.

    If part of the trouble is getting off the porch into the yard, I found that while a slow, clumsy two-feet-per-step and hauling with both arms to climb steep stairs, that very shallow ones are easy to climb using the one foot per step that people with perfect knees use. You just do it slower. Building a set of easier steps is something you could get done for her.

    Once she can get off the porch, she needs a place with some shade, and somewhere to sit, and a small patch of sun or half sun and some raised beds with good humusy soil in it for growing gorgeous things and easy weeding.

    For shade, I saw a lattice-house set up in a nursery a week ago, a lean-to arrangement with wide open entry, low ceiling and green plastic mesh. This area was about half-shaded and COOL on a 95 degree humid St Louis parking lot. The mesh let in every scrap of mesh. They had absolutely gorgeous lush begonias in there, but lots of plants would love it there.

    She would love sitting and gardening there. Any handy guy could build that in a weekend-- way easier than a deck. Lots less wood, too. Just some 4 x 4 for the frame. My husband asked them, and they said they hadn't even sunk the posts. The mesh is just stapled on the frame.

    Also do a search for "lasagne" gardening on the Web forum. I have seen long threads on that. It is a way of building raised beds full of wonderful compost. Just the idea of doing that ought to thrill your mother. Also try the "winter seeding" forum here, for an easy way to start seeds early while the winter doldrums are still on you. I found that site exciting enough so that I ordered some seeds today to be started next March (but it felt soooo good to make my seed list and actually order some)

    Growing plants from seed is a completely engrossing occupation, and seeds are cheap enough to experiment with. I started some Geranium elite from seed a year ago, and they bloomed in 6 weeks and never stopped blooming all winter and are still blooming now. They get afternoon sun in my kitchen, and 5 of them cost me about $3 for the seed.

    Also the thing about gardeners is that they are future oriented--always looking forward, planning next year, buying seeds, imagining what something will look like, smell like, etc. And all people need something engrossing to do or think about and do to keep their minds off the fears and negative things that otherwise keep coming back into our minds.

    Also, garden lights might help in the winter. They are pretty expensive, but again if you are handy you can get the flourescent lamps from Lowe's or Sears or Home Depot and set them up on a table for her (hang them from a wood tripod or something.

    Start planning with her for the steps, the lattice shed, the lasagne garden, the winter seeding,the plant lights. Get her input, get her to help plan and make the seedlists. Get some seed catalogs. Buy some seeds.

    There is a "growing from seed" forum here that has a couple of threads listing some really good seed catalogs that you could order for her on the internet (they will mail them)

    I hope you won't find this post forward and impertinent, but your post captured me, and I got engrossed :) in thinking of ways to make a little gardening something she could enjoy both in the doing and in the antifipating.

    She's very lucky to have a loving and concerned son, and maybe doesn't want to ask for things. Just get in there and start doing some of them to get her started.

    Finally, about the health concerns. These are the things that visit you late at night when you're awake and don't want to wake anyone else up, but talk to the doctors, ask questions, find out all you can. There is so, so, so much that doctors can do for us all that wasn't available even 20 years ago. Sometimes there's a lot of hope, more than your worst fears allow you to have.

    God bless you both.

  • Cyniska
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    It sounds as if your mother is suffering a lot of pain as well as having limited mobility. Pain needs to be treated as a medical problem and not just viewed as a symptom. If your doctor isn't dealing with it adequately, ask for a referral to one specializing in pain control. My back is destroyed but I can remain active because my doctor, although she can do nothing to repair it, can prescribe medication to relieve me of pain and the stress and depression that goes with it.

    That said, I find a water garden very low maintenance and delightful to sit beside. Within a year of my pond being dug frogs, water snails and dragon and damsel flies abounded, birds gathered to bathe and drink and the fish and waterlilies I put in multiplied. When my mother (in her nineties) could no longer move about the garden, she spent many happy hours watching at the pond.

  • tony
    Original Author
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thank you all for the wonderfull words of encouragement. I haven't been up to it to respond to any posts, as I sometimes find it difficult to return to this message I wrote.

    Some days are good, some days are not so good. Other days are down right nasty in terms of pain for her. She is able to water the flower boxes and still admire the garden, but nothing really active. I sometimes tell her that she has been promoted to a supervisor, giving me instructions on what to and what to plant, and I have become the worker in the garden now ;)(lol) She really liked to get down on the knees and get to all the hands on fun stuff of planting, pruning, clipping, weeding, etc.

    We saw a rheumatologist last week and confirmed the findings of the x-ray and ct scan and family doctor's diagnosis. She is to see a neurologist, but knowing our health care system up here in Canada, they said it could take up to TWO years just for an appointment!! We are thinking of going to private health care if it takes TWO years. The funny thing is, is that all the medicines to treat her illness (disc herniation, plus spinal stenosis, and osteoarthritis of the spine), treats only the symtoms, ie pain, but not the underlying cause to halt or prevent further degredation of the vertebrae and discs.

    I am afraid it will take more than garden therapy to regain a positive mental attitude towards her condition and life in general. I know it will play a big part of it. Your words of encouragement are helping me cope with this difficult time myself. I know that without being able to enjoy the fruits of her labour earlier this year out in the garden when she was well, she would be dealing with depression as well.

  • cicadae
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The pond idea is a good one. I have arthritis and have known it was getting worse for a long time ago so have been preparing for it. I put a huge pond in my yard and am surrounding it with penstamon, daylilies, yellow loosestrife, and ferns. These plants seem to keep the weeds to a minimum making the on-my-knees work less. Daylilies send their flowers up to a decent height for dead-heading and sniffing. Even if I can't be as strong as I used to be, simply sitting surrounded by such beauty and scent makes me feel alive and happy.

  • Yellow22
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Tony,

    Keeping her garden in shape right now is the best thing for her. I would suggest taking her to a public garden even if it's the first time she'll need to be in a wheelchair. Adding birdfeeders is a good idea and talking about other ways to encourage other wild life during the winter with books is another idea. She can design with some plant that need less care. Over planting will keep the weeds down. You might like to look into a local garden club that could help support her needs better. She could make a bright contrubution with her experiences that will give her a good feeling and releive you a little. There are other ways of reaching in a garden. Making things for the garden is another way to use therapy. There's a lot of bowling balls with glass beads glued to them going into gardens. She sounds like a spit fire. Cheer up.

  • leah_zone5
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Tony, Your posting is what inspired me to try to do a program for our garden club on accessable gardening. Thank you so much and I pray for your mother. I was in a car wreck last month, and I just look at my garden that I planted so unaccessably this spring, and it just makes me cry sometimes. The weeds make me so mad.
    Slowly I am getting better, but this was a lesson well learned by me. I'm going to do some better planning when I am able. I can't believe all the great advice. I think I will copy this whole thread to pass out to my club at my program. Thanks again, Leah

  • tony
    Original Author
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Leah, I hope you are not too seriously injured!! Rehab from injury plays alot on how well one recouperates. Garden therapy plays a big part of it, I think. I am glad that you can receive inspiration from this post. Get well soon :)

    A lot of things Mom can enjoy are in containers. I cut a lot of fresh flowers too whenever possible to brighten up the kitchen. Dhalies flower at a perfect height, so not much bending down to cut when she wants to cut any flowers herself. Our rose bush had flowered earlier this year and is not putting out anymore buds, but roses are good in the kitchen table too.

    Weeding and mulching aren't my favourite things to do, yet when she was not ill, she would relentlessly pull out those darn weeds and mulch all that soil. I can now appreciate how much she loves gardening by all the effort she would do to just make the garden look perfect for her.

    As for Mom's condition, it has not gotten any better. In fact it has gotten worse :( The neurologist's recommendation was back surgery. It is a scary prospect to face, but now we know and have to think that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is the answer to all her worries and problems, rather than fretting about the prospect of surgery as being a bad thing.

  • YUKON_GOLD
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Tony, I've been there and done that. Trying to make this brief and I am only speaking from my experience. Be patient and ask your mom to be patient and give this some time. I know, I know, it seems like the pain will never end. Had 3 herniated discs, one of which ruptured and ripped like a fingerlike projection into the spinal nerves, squishing those as well. I couldn't walk because one leg dragged. These 3 discs bulged in every direction imaginable, probably had about 6 episodes of being bedridden for days at a time. Never had such pain in my life, was bedridden for a month at its worst, couldn't stand, couldn't sit, sleeping only permissible with codeine to which I developed a surprise withdrawal when I tried to get off it. So I suffered with severe feelings of fear for about 10-12 hours until the junk left my system. Whew! Now it's nothing more than X-strength Tylenol. Anyway, I have learned my limitations, the discs eventually healed to the point where I can do what I need to do to live each day, and I garden again, but conservatively. Surgery was always thrown at me, but I declined. I'm glad I did, there are a lot of risks. I have not had a disc blow out in over 5 years now. Ask your mom to take it easy, let things heal as much as they can, and give it about 2 months to see if she feels the same way she does today. I bet the pain will diminish once the bulging disc decides to recede and gets off those nerves. Surgeons are too quick to cut.

  • punky36
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Tony, can I ever relate. The only difference is that I had never made a thing grow in my life before. The plants I received during the many hospital stays, I managed to kill within the year. I had three failed back surgeries which left me with no use of my left leg and foot, a back that I can no longer bend, turn or twist and lately severe Arthritis has attacked my entire body (especially my hands) and horrific pain 24/7. I was in deep depression for a very long time and perhaps if my children would have helped and worried about me as you do about your Mom, I would have pulled myself out of my world of self-pity a long time ago.
    Alas, I was not that lucky, however, one can only live like that for so long, before thoughts of ending it all take over, and I thank G-d for giving me the strength to find the will to search every avenue to help myself. Also, I have a family physician who is modern and not adverse to giving me enough medication (even narcotics) to take the edge off of the pain.

    When my youngest moved across the ocean, I bought a samll computer to keep in touch with her. I taught myself how to send e-mails and then I started wandering around the Internet. It was then that I came across GardenWeb and after reading the different posts for days, I got the courage to post and ask questions. You would not believe the many replies I received with all kind of advice on how to start a garden (some giving me sites where to find more info)
    Last winter I kept myself very busy planning my little garden, searching through catalogues, gardening magazines and the Internet, looking for perennial plants that have "good garden manners", as my garden buddy Newt taught me.I have several container plants and start working on them when it is too cold to plant in the ground.
    My garden takes up most of my time (even the many long sleepless nights). I agree with the poster that said that outside help can be very frustrating, however, if you have the time to supervise then they will do as your Mom would like to have in done.
    Who knows, I just might find another hobby to add, that will ensure that I have no spare moments to dwell on all the things I can no longer do (I was not born disabled)
    Also, I am not adverse to getting a little psycological help now and them when I need it most.
    I have to digress here for a moment and tell you that the great friends I found here on GardenWeb gave me a new lease on life. I still write to some and they answer when they are able. We exchange jokes as well as gardening information,links where you can find more information for every subject and seeing that we are in the same boat, in one form or another, it gives me the strength to carry on. (We understnad each other) Perhaps that is why I am so grateful to GardenWeb,and to this new Forum.
    The advice you got in the previous posts are excellent, and if I may, I would like to suggest that if you do build a raised bed, sitting on the wall and twisting around to care for the plants does not always work for everyone. I know it doesn't for me. I don't know if my solution will work for your Mom, however, I had four large (tall) rock garden stones with relatively flat tops placed in strategic places so that I can move around on them (not have to twist my spine). That way I am closer to the ground and can get my hands in the dirt. I guess I will have to leave the composting to purchasing it in a bag (not quite the same as making your own, I understand, however,it's the best I can manage.) Just one last thing, I have purchased some excellent "Enabling tools" through a Catalogue,the name is
    called Gardenscape, they have a toll free number, which is: 1-888-472-3266, the are situated in Toronto 416-698-5339, they are very reliable, guarantee all purchases and ship promptly. The Catalogue is Free. (I believe they are a GardenWeb sponsor)
    Good Luck, and G-d Bless
    Punky.

  • SoCal_Janine
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    A good source for gardening tools that are made for people with disabilities is Charley's Greenhouse and Garden Supply:

    http://www.charleysgreenhouse.com/catalog/index.cfm?page=_Level1Display&CategoryId=500

    In the "tools" section you'll find lots of things that let you do things like weed standing up, or plant standing up; things that will keep you off your knees. I've never bought any of these things, just noticed them - other products I've bought from this same source have been wonderful.

    How sweet you are to take such good care of your mother. She's a lucky woman to have you.

    xxoo
    -Janine

  • bobwhite
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    tony look at the post accessible greenhouse, I think this might be the answer you are looking for. this was made for people like your mother where she can sit and play in the dirt and make something beautiful with her effort. take a look, see for yourself. best regards bobwhite(bob hinshaw)

  • grannyant
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Dear Tony

    I have had 3 spinal surgeries, and am glad for each one. Not all problems are solved, but I gained more relief after each surgery healed. Depression seems to come hand in hand with continual pain, especially when there doesn't seem to be any end to it. I also found it was a hard pill to swallow, the fact that I wasn't physically able to do everything I wanted anymore. With your loving and caring support, your positive attitude, your Mum has half the battle won. I agree, gardening and pets are the best therapies combined with loved ones., and, oh yes, I have had a few nerves blocked since the surgeries, and they brought me even further relief - perhaps they may be a consideration for your Mum at some stage, anyway, you're a treasure. . . . Granny

  • tony
    Original Author
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks Granny. She is now scheduled very soon for a spinal decompressive laminectomy and a lumbar fusion where they take a piece of bone from the iliac crest (hip) and fuse it to the vertebrae with titanium rods and screws.

    With new medication, she appears to be much more mobile than before.

    Our dahlias have been producing flowers all summer long and we get to enjoy fresh cut flowers on our table every few days, so that brightens up the day.

    I have a sneaking suspicion she is already planning what to plant and how to plant for next year. I've gotten hints at more cherry tomatoes, more basil, dividing the dahlias and the bleeding hearts to give them more room, harvesting the overwintered bunching onions, sowing more cilantro, etc, etc, etc. :)

  • sandman_max
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Tony, your mention of herbs gave me another idea for your mum. If you have a balcony, deck rail or windows that can be are easily reached from the ground, put up some window box or railing planters. She can put her herb garden in those and they will thrive in the quick draining environment. She won't have to bend over to tend to them either. With my back problems, which don't sound anywhere as severe as her's, I find that standing is often more comfortable then sitting and forget bending over.

    As other's have mentioned, depression is a big part of any trauma that infers with your normal life. And facing the loss of a loved activity in combination with continual pain is extremely the worst. I spent many a night crying and was absolutely positive that my life wasn't worth living if I couldn't ride my horse. Well, since I'm here, you can guess that I made it thru. The horse is sold and the garden is ... well... I do what I can when I can and don't worry about it if I can't.

    I'm SO glad she's doing better. If she's planning next year's garden, that's a good sign. Just hang in there and be there for her.

    Margaret

  • grannyant
    20 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Dear Tony

    Fresh flowers daily, more effective pain relief and the operation coming up, no wonder your Mum's planning next year's garden. How could her spirit not be lighter., so I won't bet against your sneaking suspicions. Be proud of yourself, you're doing a great job. . . . Granny