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Issue No 106
Spring 2006
page 52

Accessible Herb Gardening

The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible
—Arthur C. Clarke,
Technology and the Future

Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.
—William Shakespeare

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you needn’t throw in the trowel either.

“People need to know that gardening is a life-long hobby, and it can be adapted for them,” explains Jean M. Larson, MA, CTRS, HTR, and Coordinator at the Center for Therapeutic Horticulture at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minnesota. In fact, herb gardening offers additional benefits to folks limited by physical disability —beyond the exercise and joy that all gardening affords—because herbs engage a variety of senses.

Larson notes the use of the scented geranium in South Africa, where the herbs are traditionally planted along walkways leading to the gardener’s front door, their heady fragrance releasing as passersby brush against the leaves. Since varieties of this species emit a powerful fragrance (even without being handled), tending them provides aromatherapeutic benefits for any gardener, especially those with disabilities. Lacy Gage of Santa Fe Greenhouses in Santa Fe, New Mexico, points out, “Since [herbs] are, generally speaking, quite fragrant, that offers a dimension for those with limited vision.”

There are a number of ways to amend your current garden plot or design a new gardening area that can meet your physical limitations. And, best of all, a wide variety of herbs successfully grow in any gardening spot—no matter what changes you’ve made to keep gardening enjoyable.

Contain Your Enthusiasm
Moveable containers make gardening accessible for those who find it difficult to bend over and reach plants growing in the ground, and plenty of herbs flourish in this environment. “Mediterranean herbs are good choices for containers,” explains EagleSong, head gardener at The Herbfarm Restaurant in Wood-

Tending Your Accessible Garden

Soil Requirements: For containers, EagleSong recommends a soil composition of one part compost to one part Perlite to one part peat, with “a bit of loamy garden soil thrown in for good measure. Worm castings are a very useful amendment to promote pot soil health, [as well as] a balanced fertilizer for nutrients and lime for pH.” She prefers a pH of 6.5. If you use commercially available potting mix, include a water-retaining polymer, since potted plants dry out faster than those in the ground. Try adding a controlled-release fertilizer at planting time, as well.

Watering: Dryness is relative, of course. Heat- and sun-loving rosemary may never need watering in a moist environment like Florida—Cook claims never to water his— while over in Texas, Varney waters his herbs “every day during the summer—and if they look thirsty by the afternoon, water then, too.” What’s an herb grower to do? Use common sense: If leaves droop and the plant looks thirsty, give it water, but don’t overdo it.

Which herbs are likely to be thirstier? Water requirements vary widely, explains EagleSong, “with mints at the wetter end of the spectrum and the lavenders, thymes, and oreganos at the drier side.” Generally, the more shade-tolerant an herb, the more likely it is to grow well in moist soil. These herbs include lovage, angelica, woodruff and sweet cicely.

Sunlight: Oil accounts for an herb’s flavor, and is best produced with at least 6-8 hours of exposure to direct sun daily. If your plants receive at least six hours of sun (or 14 hours of fluorescent light), and the soil is welldrained, and neutral to slightly acidic (a pH of around 6.5) but they still don’t grow, feed them houseplant fertilizer at the recommended strength. For herbs in raised beds, Varney swears by fertilizer that contains fish emulsion and compost.

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