Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Get by with a little help from your friends

Aging gardeners can seek out others to lend a hand

Betty has sent along a thought-provoking email, on a topic that had been discussed among a group of her women friends.

All the women had created beautiful gardens that had begun to present challenges as the women entered their 70s and 80s and energy levels changed. Some had moved, downsizing to situations that limited gardening to balcony pots.

Others continue to enjoy gardening and want to carry on with it, but have reached a point of needing help to keep their landscapes adequately maintained. Betty describes the cost of hiring that help as “prohibitive.”

She adds, “I thought some of your readers might have aged into the same dilemma and wondered whether you might have some ideas for us.”

Since all of us gardeners, if we are fortunate, will advance into the “elderly” category, this issue is worth serious consideration.

The first idea that comes to mind is that “help” need not be impossibly expensive. There might even be people willing to be called on to lend a hand. Over the years, when they became aware of the need, friends, family and neighbours have come by to shore up fencing, weed and cover paths with fresh wood shavings, install sections of deer-proofing, repair work tables, help pick fruit and much more.

When I began asking around about good garden helpers two years ago, I quickly found two women who come to garden with me every two or three weeks, just for three hours at a time, at an affordable rate. I choose for us projects that I find tedious or/and tiring to accomplish alone. They will also work on their own.

Assess to simplify. Our gardens are individual creations. Each one will have its own plants and areas that offer opportunities for alterations that reduce or eliminate the need for maintenance.

For example, because tree roots from a neighbouring forest made actual gardening difficult along one side of the back yard, I cleared it, placed cardboard and newspaper over the ground, covered the area with wood shavings, and set up chairs and a table to create a pleasant, almost no-care sitting-out place in the garden.

Remember, as you look for possible changes to make garden care more a delight than a chore, that this is your garden. There are no rules but ones you choose to follow.

I’ve often embarked on these “garden editing” sessions, seeking further means of personal survival as a gardener.

I usually look first for picky, awkward planting areas that are often narrow strips that soak up hours of toil in keeping them neatly edged and weeded . Eliminating them, or planting low-growing, minimal-maintenance ground covers in them, can save enormous amounts of time and energy.

Old, overgrown, congested vines, shrubs and trees create a cluttered, confined feel to a garden. Gradually thinning out congested growth and reducing the size of these plants makes a garden feel less overwhelming. Reducing plants to a modest size means a reduction as well in the work required to maintain them.

Scrutinize each area of the garden. How much time and labour does it require to maintain? Do the plantings thrive without coddling?

Personally, my tolerance for pampered plant darlings that continue to sulk despite lavish attention has diminished over the years. For such as these, a gentle demise can be easily arranged.

What to do with a plot that requires laborious tending but it is one you love? Think strawberries. Big, juicy, rich and ripe strawberries, sun-warmed and devoured on the spot. Then think of all that bending over, arranging runners, weeding, … Weigh it all out and make a decision. Mine was to remove, and lovingly compost, over half of my patch. Now I have a strawberry plot I can tend without needing to take a nap after each session in it.

Plants not thriving in a hot, dry site? Think Mediterranean herbs like lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage. They require almost no care and offer evergreen, fragrant foliage, flowers, and culinary flavourings.


Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet on Tuesday, Nov 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the QB Civic Centre, 747 Jones St. Doors open at 7. The evening’s format will be a round-table discussion aimed at getting to know each other, to learn from each other and to plan for the future.

[email protected]