A lift for the heart

Eayne Castro, left, Mel Bettencourt and Howard Stevens talk

Gilroy
– Gardening has been a life-long hobby for many seniors and
keeping up with the activity is proving to have healthy effects for
many South County residents.
There are plenty of reasons for gardeners to celebrate National
Garden Week, June 5 through 11, including a recent study by the
University of Arkansas that found strong bones are one of the
outcomes of gardening. Maintaining a few flowers or vegetables
helps as much as regular weight training, the study reported.
Gilroy – Gardening has been a life-long hobby for many seniors and keeping up with the activity is proving to have healthy effects for many South County residents.

There are plenty of reasons for gardeners to celebrate National Garden Week, June 5 through 11, including a recent study by the University of Arkansas that found strong bones are one of the outcomes of gardening. Maintaining a few flowers or vegetables helps as much as regular weight training, the study reported.

Other healthy consequences include maintaining flexibility, bone density and range of motion, functions that can decrease as people age.

For many seniors, gardening is as much about spending time outdoors and getting some mental exercise as it is about the physical benefits.

Irene Mort, 67, a founding member of the South Valley Fleurs Garden Club, said she started gardening seriously in her 50’s.

“It lifts up the heart. It’s very good exercise,” she said. “Just being outside is good.”

Mort tries to spend time in her garden every day, but admitted she often doesn’t know when to stop.

“I keep working and working,” Mort said.

In addition to the exercise, Mort appreciates the mental stimulation. She has been researching plants for a shade garden at her Morgan Hill home.

“I am in the throes of changing things around,” she said.

Flowers such as irises and roses flourished when she and her husband first moved into the home seven years ago. The home had few trees around it and the trees they planted when they first moved in have grown large, creating lots of shade in the formerly sunny yard. She is moving toward flowers that do better with less sunlight such as azaleas and camellias.

Ellie Sanford, 83, a member of the Morgan Hill Flower Lovers Club, shares many of the same sentiments as Mort. Sanford has been gardening for nearly 60 years.

Sanford lives in a senior mobile home and has limited planting space around her home. But she still manages to maintain 12 rose bushes. She also has irises, geraniums and tomatoes planted nearby outside her small home.

“I have quite a substantial garden for the space I have,” she said.

Sanford enjoys the challenge of maintaining her garden.

“It keeps you outdoors and doing physical things,” Sanford said. “You have to be able to take care of your garden, fertilize it and water it.”

Her favorite part of gardening is seeing her roses in bloom.

A close second is keeping her mind active at her gardening club, which meets the first Wednesday of the month.

“It keeps you busy and it keeps you interested,” Sanford said. “We study at the Flower Lovers’ Club and we learn a lot of new things.”

Members of Mort’s club learn new techniques from nursery owners or master gardeners at the meetings, held the second Wednesday of the month.

“It’s very scientific,” Mort said of gardening. “The more you read, you’re always learning new things.”

Mort and Sanford’s gardening clubs also have unexpected benefits to South County communities.

Norman Watenpaugh, 75, a retired agricultural engineer, is a founding member of the Fleurs Garden Club. In addition to maintaining a natural habitat garden at his home in Gilroy, he keeps the Gilroy Senior Center garden in bloom.

“I go out twice a week. I work on it a little bit and then turn on the water,” Watenpaugh said. “Then I go inside and eat lunch and when I am through, I come out and turn the water off.”

The garden fills a planter outside the senior center. The flowers, herbs and vegetables cover all the colors of the rainbow and a bench along the garden gives seniors a chance to enjoy the sun rays when they visit the center. The smell of flowering tomato plants drifts from one side of the garden while fresh rosemary drifts from the other.

“He planted tomatoes because the seniors like to pick them off when they are ripe and pop them in their mouths,” Mort said.

The garden allows the opportunity for seniors such as Lila Carr, 85, who doesn’t maintain her own garden, to enjoy one.

“I see the work they put into it, the dedication,” she said. “A lot of people sit out there, enjoying the garden.”

The Morgan Hill Flower Lovers’ Club also does its share of community projects. Members from the club maintain the planters along Monterey Highway in Morgan Hill.

The club also hosts an annual two-day flower show in May at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center. The show spotlights arrangements put together by its members and gives residents an idea of gardening options available.

Seniors interested in maintaining a garden without an abundance of yard space have some options. Master gardener Rebecca Kolls, host of “Rebecca’s Garden” on NBC, suggested a few fun ways to keep a garden in one planter. A pizza garden, with everything for the perfect pie except the dough, can be grown in a large planter. Ingredients can include roma tomatoes, onions and basil.

“Imagine growing almost everything you need for a recipe in one container,” Kolls said.

A salsa garden, complete with tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro, is another option.

Indoor houseplants and herb gardens allow nurturing opportunities to seniors unable to keep an outdoor area. Windowsill planters work well for basil, parsley or other herbs that grow well with little sunlight and water.

Sanford and Mort, who still have the chance to maintain outdoor spaces, have been gardening for decades and they plan to keep going.

“I’ll always be gardening,” Mort said. “It’s so lovely to go out and see nice flowers when they are blooming beautifully for you.”

Getting started

• See a doctor to see what precautions should be taken.

• Gardening during the time of day you feel best will help eliminate stiffness.

• Plan ahead. Find a place with a nearby water source and storage area to avoid hauling tools.

• Use tools with long handles to avoid bending and stooping.

• Wear a carpenter’s apron with several pockets for tools.

• Use sprinklers. Consider a hose caddy, if sprinklers are unavailable.

• Wrap handles with foam padding or electrical tape.

• If you use a cane or walker, bring it with you to avoid tripping or falling over uneven ground.

• When close to the ground, place only one knee on the ground or use a stool to keep your back straight.

Source: www.arthritis.org

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