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Book Review: The Lifelong Gardener

I started a raised bed garden this spring. At age 54, I wanted to be smart about building it now so I can continue participating in the future. After all, I live with both MS and arthritis.

For instance, I don’t need mobility devices right now, but who’s to say what the future holds? We built tall beds with ample pathway space between them, just in case.

People with MS recognize this unpredictability factor can get in the way of living one’s best life.

The benefits of spending time outside in nature

But I also know firsthand how spending time outside in a natural environment does me so much good. I’ve lost some weight, sleep better, feel more energized, and notice my mood has lifted.

More on this topic

Still, MS joins me in the garden with its reminders: dizziness, pain, tremors, spasticity. I’m also temperature sensitive and not particularly fond of hot summer days.

Gardening with physical limitations

So I’ve been on the lookout for a resource that spotlights the specific needs of gardeners with physical limitations.

Nothing showed up on a search until I found —really, by accident— a book called The Lifelong Gardener: Garden with Ease & Joy at Any Age.

The Lifelong Gardener

The Lifelong Gardener (TLG), by author Toni Gattone, celebrates the way of the “adaptive gardening path.” She comes to the challenges of gardening through the lens of someone who’s older with serious back problems.

She writes in the introduction that gardening “gets you out of the house, into nature and fresh air. It also involves bending and stretching, which can help with flexibility and balance, increasing your strength and ultimately, your range of motion.”

These sounds like benefits people with MS could enjoy.

What is adaptive gardening?

Gattone suggests that “adaptive gardening offers dozens of ways for gardeners of all ages with a limited range of motion, the wheelchair-bound, or anyone wanting to reduce stress on their joints, to identify what works for them in their garden according to their personal physical realities.”

Adaptive gardening protocols

She cleverly cultivated a list of adaptive gardening protocols that I paraphrase here. Thou shalt:

  1. Accept your physical limitations.
  2. Believe you deserve a safe and comfortable garden.
  3. Practice self-care as part of your garden practice.
  4. Avoid repetitive movements by switching up chores frequently to reduce next-day pain.
  5. Garden smarter, not harder.
  6. Follow the “right plant, right place” strategy.
  7. Ask for help.
  8. Choose and maintain smart tools.
  9. Be ergonomically aware.
  10. Find eye-level vertical gardening opportunities.

Keeping a garden despite the unpredictability of MS

It’s obvious Gattone has nailed the adaptive gardening philosophy in a way that’s relevant to someone with MS. She gets it: we may have limitations and unpredictable symptoms or challenges, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep a garden.

It means, like living with MS itself, we just work around the obstacles. Her book offers some practical and inspiring means to do this.

How to use this book

TLG is divided into three sections: “You and Your Body,” “Your Garden,” and “Your Tools.” followed by appendices with parting thoughts and resources.

The book itself is beautifully designed and includes many handy checklists and suggestions. Gattone also shares stories of real people who’ve found ways to overcome their limitations in order to experience a rich gardening life.

I also did a simple index check on MS-relevant keywords in TLG (such as access, dizziness, fatigue, fall, muscle, vision) and honestly, she didn’t miss a thing.

About the author

Gattone is a master gardener boasting more than two decades of work as a passionate gardener and writer with books, seminars, a blog, and a YouTube channel all dedicated to this dream pursuit.

She was inspired to write TLG after suffering an injury leading to chronic, severe, disabling back pain. After rehabilitation, her return to gardening demanded new approaches. She carefully morphed her practice into something she could sustain and enjoy again.

TLG is the culmination of her insights and experiences, ready to share with anyone finding themselves in a similar situation. I know I’ve found some great ideas and I think you will, too.

Gattone also writes a popular blog you might want to check out.

Final analysis

At the end of the introduction to TLG, she concludes:

“I prefer not to dwell on physical challenges but instead to focus on proactive solutions to those challenges...Some of the tips may not resonate with every gardener. We are all so different, and we all approach gardening from a different mindset, not to mention numerous growing zones and microclimates. Just as there are no two gardens alike anywhere in the world, there are no two gardeners alike.”

This sounds like someone who understands life with MS!

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