Growing Concerns 543: Gardening assistance for seniors

Late Fall!

Seniors can find garden help through barter and gift


Dear Janet,

I used to have a pretty back yard and large perennial garden. Now I am 83 and too old to take care of it.

Do you know of any group that helps seniors with their flowers?


Dear A.H.,

There may be such an organization, but I don't know about it. Perhaps someone will write to tell us where seniors can find help.   Meanwhile, I have some suggestions.

If you can pay for help, check local garden centers for names of professional gardeners in your area. Garden center managers often know pros by what they buy, and some even allow pros to post business cards at the store as a public service. Although the provision of a name isn't a personal recommendation, it's a start. From there you can check a candidate's references.

Search the internet at home, or at your public library for companys that could assist you in your area.  You can check references once you get some information.

Can't afford to hire anyone? Think about bartering. We all have something to offer. I have a client-friend who needed garden help this year. When we talked about cost, we struck a deal. We've agreed on an hour for hour exchange, my gardening for her cooking. She gets my help putting her gardens to bed; I get homemade casseroles for my freezer. Although for tax purposes I'll have to assign a monetary value to Trudy's culinary efforts, they're priceless to me, someone who'd rather be outdoors than in and has been known, on her days as family cook, to ruin even very simple recipes.

Speaking of family, does yours exchange gifts? Chances are people ask themselves at every birthday and holiday, "What can I get for A. that will really be special?" So tell them you'd like garden help. Make the request specific in terms of time and scope and my bet is you'll be pleasantly surprised at the result. I recommend asking for help in the yard on one day in mid- to late April, or the cost of help in the yard.

Base the number of hours you ask for on the size of your garden. Each one hundred square feet of perennial garden -- a ten by ten bed or a border 25 feet long and four feet wide -- requires an average of one hour of work each month during the growing season. The most important work and high end of the average occurs in April. It may take two hours to get all of April's work done in that hundred square foot area but that pays off all year by leaving only light chores to do that will require just 30 to 60 minutes per month. If two people might help, ask them to split that April date or ask one for a date in mid to late October. That's the other time when work done nets you the greatest return.

These numbers are based on over twenty years of records I've kept. You can read more about those numbers and what to do in each month of the year in my book "Caring for Perennials" (1995, Storey Communications).


Green thumbs up

to so many balmy November days, chances to do fall garden clean-up sans snowsuit. There may still be more and I'll be out there, because what I do now stays done for four months!


Green thumbs down

to turning plants into burlap mummies. To protect something from wind or salt, erect your windbreak at least a foot upwind. Otherwise wind and salt will still reach the plant.


Originally published 11/29/03