How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life

Gardening as we get older can be a little more challenging, but no less enjoyable. At least that’s the premise of a smart little book called, Late Bloomer: How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life, by Jan Coppola Bills. Bills offers us older folks inspiration and practical advice for gardening in our later years. It’s more about adjusting our perspective on gardening than it is on finding adaptive tools and equipment to make the job easier, although she does offer a few tips on the latter as well.

Bills says if there is a Late Bloomer’s credo it would go, in part like this:

  • I will plant only what I can comfortably tend.
  • I will not give myself tasks beyond my ability to easily achieve.
  • I will ask for help, if necessary.

Instead of a drive for completion and conquering nature, Bills suggests we discover a “deeply soul-pleasing way of gardening.” The author defines her perspective of gardening, which borders on the spiritual, with these words: “simplicity, beauty and harmony, comfort and ease, celebrating life with food from your soil, and relaxation and letting go.” The latter directive may be hard for many of us who have lived a life defined by how much we can pack into an 8 hour day.

Bills, who runs a landscaping firm in southeast Michigan called “Two Women and a Hoe,” asks us first and foremost to garden in such a way that is both sustainable and manageable. We can enjoy gardening more if we practice a “right plant right place” philosophy that encourages the gardener to find the appropriate place for a plant so that it thrives in that location without having to be moved later because it was planted too close to the house or requires a lot of maintenance in terms of fertilizing, watering and pruning.

In Bills’ garden butterflies flutter about and beneficial insects help create an ecological balance that eliminates the need to use chemical insecticides. An added bonus: she can enjoy the comings and goings of these critters from a peaceful perch of her own choosing. The author believes in sustainable gardening that doesn’t require any chemical inputs, conserves resources while reducing the amount of work required to maintain a garden.

Proper watering will conserve this precious resource while saving on your water bill. Weeds and weeding can be reduced or eliminated by planting a full garden bed with flowers and shrubs. And those leaves that we spend so much time raking up or blowing away with a noisy leaf blower? Leave them for beneficial insects to burrow in over the winter and to break down and become rich humus for our plants. And how about that lawn that needs regular mowing and a lot of maintenance and chemical inputs? Let’s just say you can grow a lot of flowers and vegetables in this space!

The right tools will make gardening a little easier and more enjoyable and Bills offers up her favorites, including a good set of pruners, tine steel rake and loppers. A mini-D-handle shovel allows a person to get on their hands and knees to dig a shallow hole for planting, rather than working from a bending over position that is hard on the back. This is something I can appreciate as I tend to stiffen up when working from a slightly bent over position. A good set of knee pads are essential for those knees that “ain’t what they used to be.”

Recycling treasures from the past

In the second half of life most of us have accumulated enough stuff to fill up a football stadium. These items can become recycled art and used as part of an overall garden design: no need to buy more stuff. Bills keeps these forgotten treasures–potential art–out of landfills by recycling them and finding the appropriate place for them among the plants. In fact, she enjoys posting pictures online of her latest find.

Knowledge is power

Gardening, like any endeavor, requires a certain degree of knowledge to do it right. Bills provides the information gardeners need in this compact volume to be a successful gardener. She covers all of the basics of gardening, from plant selection to shade gardening. She also generously shares her experience as a landscape professional, admonishing the reader to choose healthy plants for your appropriate hardiness zone. The 6 basic design tips presented in the book will help the reader put together a garden that is both functional and appealing to the eye. She presents this information in a way that is easy to understand with color photos to illustrate.

Bills was inspired to garden and start her garden business after her brother Michael died. His untimely death provided a lot of the perspective she now has for gardening and life in general. She says after her brother died she replaced her corporate high heels for Wellies and never looked back.

Late Bloomer, like the magazine you’re reading, helps us find that perspective we need to live well in our second half of life, in and out of the garden.

Neil Moran is a freelance garden writer and blogger.

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