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The therapeutic benefits of gardening

02 May 2024

For people with MS, gardening is often much more than a hobby - it's therapy! It can nurture wellbeing while providing much needed physical exercise. Gardening might seem daunting for those with mobility issues and other physical challenges, but thoughtful planning can make gardening accessible to all regardless of ability.

What gardening offers

Gardening can provide a myriad of benefits for people with MS. Along with exercise and enhanced wellbeing, it can bring purpose and a huge sense of accomplishment. Spending time outdoors surrounded by greenery can improve mood, reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and enhance quality of life, all while topping up vitamin D levels.

Whether it’s tending to flowers, nurturing vegetables, or just basking in nature, gardening can also offer a sense of tranquillity and fulfilment. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that gardening is cited as one of the most popular activities by people living with MS.

Accessible gardening

For people with MS, some gardening tasks can pose significant physical challenges. Because MS affects everyone differently, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. However, simple modifications can make gardening more accessible and significantly more enjoyable for everyone.

Appropriate landscaping

Design the garden with accessibility in mind, with wide pathways and lots of space between raised beds or planters. If your garden is on a slope, consider handrails and ramps. Even if you don’t use mobility aids now, you may need to in future so it’s good to think ahead. If you are sensitive to heat, make sure there’s somewhere shady and cool to relax.

Raised Beds

Raised beds, pots and tables are a game-changer for accessible gardening. They also provide good drainage, helping the plants to thrive. Lifting plants up to a comfortable height means not having to bend down. Don’t make them too big; it’s much easier if you can reach everything comfortably.

Ergonomic equipment

Opt for lightweight tools that reduce strain on the body and make gardening less physically demanding. There are specialist tools, for example trowels with right-angled handles, that people with dexterity problems find useful. But most are readily available, including:

  • telescopic shears
  • slim shovel
  • soil knife
  • long-handled grabbers
  • adjustable hoses or drip irrigation
  • garden trolley or small wheelbarrow
  • portable seat and kneeler

Low-maintenance plants

Selecting the right plants can make a big difference. You can minimise weeding by including varieties that provide good ground cover. When choosing vegetables, opt for long-season varieties, such as tomatoes. If you’re a novice, start with easy-to-grow vegetables, like lettuce. If you have problems with memory, it may be useful to keep notes on what you’ve planted where, so you don’t accidentally dig up bulbs or young plants.

Managing MS symptoms

With MS, it’s crucial to manage fatigue levels. Listen to your body and pace yourself. Take lots of breaks, stop if you feel tired, and don't hesitate to seek help if you need it.

Doing physical activity outside is really beneficial, but also comes with some risks. So make sure you keep hydrated, and be careful not to overheat.

Don't stress if everything isn't perfect, and don’t expect to get the design right first time. Accessible gardening is a journey of learning and experimentation to create a space where you can connect with nature and enjoy the benefits of working outdoors. With a bit of planning, creativity and determination, it should be possible to cultivate a thriving garden that brings satisfaction and happiness.

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