The Last Boomer in the Woods?

I’ve spent the better part of the last few days nose to nose with a bumper crop of spring weeds and a large pile of mulch. The growing season is getting underway and we’re in the middle of our annual spring cleanup — by far our largest time commitment in the garden all year.

Mulching, trimming, weeding and edging takes a good bit of effort and you may be wondering why we do it at all. It’s not that we don’t have help. We do, and he’s great (thanks Mark!). But I find that I actually enjoy the physical exertion involved (hauling and digging and pulling).  It’s also a great opportunity to really inspect the garden, feel the fresh breezes and listen to the birds as they ramp up their singing.

And there’s nothing like a long stretch of gardening to let your mind wander as you enter a kind of zen-like trance.

It was one of those random mental musings that got me thinking about how easy it is these days to outsource much of the physical labor involved in maintaining a landscape, particularly in an affluent area such as ours. We’re busy with other things, it can be demanding and we can afford the help.  So why bother doing it ourselves?

And that got me thinking about the reports I’ve seen of Baby Boomers tearing out their gardens in favor of an expansive lawn they can tend with a riding mower.  Or the folks who are deciding just to jettison the whole yard thing altogether, thank you very much.

Next mental image: Edvard Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream.” Noooooo!

Munch The Scream

But it’s a fair question to ask why we should have a garden and/or continue to work in it as we age.

During Day One in the mulch, I thought about all of the ways in which gardening helps keep you physically fit. More on that later, but research shows that gardening really is good for the body, even ones that are getting up in years.

Day Two in the mulch got me thinking about all of the ways that being and working in the garden is good for your psyche and your soul. More on that later, too — but the bottom line is there are proven mental health benefits to be gained from engaging with your landscape, no matter your age.

Then on Day Three in the mulch, I had a visit from an adorable one-year-old. She spent the better part of an hour putting gravel in a flowerpot and pouring it out, climbing up (but not down) some garden steps and otherwise motoring around the uncut grass. We watched the birds at the bird feeders and tried to avoid getting mowed down by our very rambunctious, spring-fevered dog.

A lot has been written recently about the importance of getting kids outdoors and interacting with nature (see, for example, Richard Louv’s best-selling book, “The Last Child in the Woods”). But if we really believe it’s so important, we have to get out there and interact with nature too. And what could be easier than getting into and working on our own yards – ideally, with a younger person in tow?

So although this post is only the second in my series on “aging in place”, I’ve already decided to change the name.  I recently saw the same concept referred to as “growing in place”. That seems a better fit for a gardening blog.  And it also hints at one of the most important aspects of gardening as you get older: that you can do it not just for yourself but for others too.

Imparting the knowledge and joy gleaned from years in the garden to the generations that follow strikes me as no small thing. At the very least, think how rewarding it will be to sit in your garden on a warm spring day while you watch some young person — knowledgeably and joyfully — mulch, edge and weed.

Featured Image:  “Red Poppies” by Mary Cassatt


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