By Doris Margaret Willman
After contracting polio in 1953, I faced the challenge of leg braces and crutches. By 1981, I became a wheelchair user with post-polio syndrome. By this time, my three daughters were quite self-sufficient and I had some blessed leisure time.
Coming from a family of avid gardeners, I thought, why not me too? My knowledge of gardening was quite limited, except for minor chores back home in the family garden before I acquired a disability. I obtained a copy of The Complete Vegetable Garden by John Seymore. And a very compassionate husband, fortunately for me, was handy with carpentry tools.
At first we erected four planters, measuring eight feet long and two feet wide with a depth of approximately 14 inches. These planters were supported by legs and cross braces to make an overall height of about 28 inches.
The planters were placed parallel to each other, with ample room to manoeuvre the wheelchair between each one. Each planter was filled with purchased garden soil and peat moss. A lightweight garden hose took care of the watering needs. My first crops consisted of radishes, onions, carrots, beets, Swiss chard and tomatoes.
There is an advantage to container planting: Because of the wide row system, radishes, carrots and the like can be spaced as little as two inches apart.
A good-sized crop can be harvested from a confined space. Close planting also creates shading, eliminating most weeds while retaining moisture in the soil. Most crops require tilling the soil only to a depth of eight inches. This can readily be done with small hand tools. Cucumbers, a vine crop, can be trained up five-foot poles and still be within easy reach of a gardener using a wheelchair. The height of the planters enables the wheelchair user to garden with a minimum of exertion. You are also in a position to make eye contact with any garden pests — get a jump on the flea beetle before he lands on your prized tomatoes!
My planters were so successful that my husband then built my “Garden of Weeden.” This garden is 45 feet long by 30 feet wide. With the exception of a small tool shed and gateway, two-foot-wide planters extend around the full perimeter. The central area comprises three planters measuring 10 feet by four feet, lawn space bordered with flowers, and a few small shrubs thrown in.
A wooden walkway provides sufficient space to service all planting areas. A watering hose is mounted at each end of the garden.
Unless you are a fanatic gardener like myself, a garden this size is an option rather than a necessity. Much success and pleasure can be derived from smaller ones.
I can truly say my “Garden of Weeden” has been my utopia — a place where I can get lost in the magic of nature. Stress evaporates once I wheel through that gate and am in complete control of my surroundings. I spend so much time in my garden, I expect my wheelchair tires will one day take root.
Like the saying goes, we have to “stop and smell the roses.” My philosophy is, “Let’s grow ’em!”