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Keeping On—Toni Gattone shares tips on how to be a forever gardener

Toni adjusted the height of her raised bed for ease of use. (courtesy T. Gattone)

Toni Gattone doesn’t ever want to stop gardening. This prolific writer, dynamic speaker, and author of an upcoming book on adaptive gardening from Timber Press says, “We all have physical limitations. Especially as we get older. But the question is—how and when and what do you change so you can keep on doing what you love?”

Toni has, what she ruefully calls, “a bad back I inherited from my mother.” She tells me, “I live adaptive gardening. I’ve been addicted to this subject since I found it a few years ago.”

There are two ways to adapt. First, gardeners can change up their patterns of work. Use a more scattered approach. For instance, instead of tackling one job, set yourself a series of smaller tasks—weed for 15 minutes, then switch to cleaning just one corner of the greenhouse, and then go rake some soil into the lawn’s low spots. That way you use different muscles and run less chance of overworking.

The other method is to adapt the environment to you. Toni advises checking out the heights of your work surfaces. “Most raised beds come up to my knees,” Toni says. That’s too low. She lifted her own boxes up higher with a brick foundation so she could easily work from a chair next to them or comfortably stand without a lot of reaching.

Toni’s favorite trowel is now fitted with a bicycle handlebar grip. (courtesy T. Gattone)

Toni has also adapted some of her favorite tools. Her skinny-handled trowel got a makeover with the addition of a bike handlebar grip. “That made it larger and cushier and easier to work with,” she says.

Other tool handles can benefit from a coating product called Easy Dip, available in hardware and other home stores. Brightly colored rubberized coatings make tools easier to hold, and they’ll never get lost in your garden. Tony’s tip here? The Easy Dip cap lets the product dry out after opening. Decant the dip into an airtight container. Or, Toni suggests, “Dip all your handles at once.”

Toni always uses gloves. She recommends three different kinds from her favorite brand, Garden Works. She uses thin nitrile/nylon gloves for finer work. Heavier work gloves with goat or cowhide palms are good for repetitive tasks such as shoveling or raking. And she also has her indispensable gauntlets— “For roses, lemons, and berries,” she says. “The older you get, those nicks on your arms take the longest time to heal.”

So, adapt yourself to your garden, and adapt the garden to you. That way, Toni says, “You can garden for life.”