2017 Special Needs 2nd Place – Garden Smart – Garden Easy, Sussex County, DE

Entering its seventh year, the “Garden Smart – Garden Easy” program, designed and presented by the Delaware Master Gardeners – Sussex County, promotes and shares the joy of gardening while demonstrating how to make gardening available to individuals with age, mobility, space or time limitations.

The program is the result of Extension’s observation of a need in their local communities. Retirees are drawn to Delaware, specifically Sussex County, due to affordable housing and low property taxes, no sales tax, and a slower pace of living. With the aging population, more health-related organizations such as hospitals, physical and occupational therapy organizations have sprung up, thus the need for Sussex County Master Gardeners to respond with educational tips for aging gardeners.

Launched in 2010, Master Gardeners continue to share information with the public via hands-on and interactive presentations and information tables at community events, tours, local civic and gardening clubs, hospital events attended by patients, health care and other staff, seminars and support groups such as the Arthritis Foundation, and many University of Delaware/Extension-sponsored outreach events in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Information is also provided in news articles, tri-fold brochures, posters, and other handouts. The Garden Smart – Garden Easy program is easy for new master gardeners to participate in, good information for an aging population and their adult children, adaptable for children with physical limitations or adults with little time for gardening.

Since its inception, almost 6,000 gardeners or prospective gardeners have learned about ergonomically-designed tools or the benefits of adapting existing tools to accommodate gardeners with limitations, benches, kneeling pads, hoses, irrigation systems, planting flowers in container gardens and raised bed gardens, safetytips for working in the garden for those with strength or weaknesses, and designing garden paths accessible by wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers.


The “Garden Smart – Garden Easy” program is presented in several forms. First, in a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that includes a Question and Answer session and a hands-on demonstration of tools. Involving the audience is important for this successful program One-on-one communication provides a valuable opportunity to address the attendees’ specific needs and concerns. Fact sheets and other handouts are also provided. While manning informational tables at events, the PowerPoint presentation is replaced with an instructional poster. Workshops held at the Sussex County Extension office include a garden tour of our demonstration garden where examples of raised beds and other tips can be seen and considered by the participants for their own benefit.

Master Gardeners feature many tips that can assist gardeners with physical challenges such as mobility, fine motor coordination, eye-hand coordination, decreased strength or stamina, vision impairment, flexibility challenges, poor balance, chronic pain, sensitivity to heat, sun or cold, as well as time and space limitations.

Highlighted in the interaction with participants are the physical/social/mental benefits of gardening: improved self-esteem, stimulated creativity and problem solving, friendship-inducing, preventing depression, helping to maintain/increase fine motor skills, increased physical ac

tivity and stamina, and promoting hand-eye coordination.

The entire program demonstrates:

  • the benefits of planting flowers and vegetables in container gardens and raised bed gardens as alternatives to in-ground gardening (light-weight – can be moved, wide edges so the gardener may sit),
  • placing them in appropriate positions (at eye level, in window boxes, in interesting containers), and
  • growing indoors (cleans inside air, brings color inside)
  • a simple plan to build a raised garden,
  • adapting existing tools to accommodate strengths and weaknesses, and
  • new ergonomically-designed, lightweight, sharper tools, benches, pads, hoses, irrigation systems, designed especially for gardeners with limitations.

Some featured tools and their benefits are:

  • Trowels with ergonomically-designed handles take the pressure from the wrist and spread pressure outwards over
  • the arm.
  • Gear-driven pruners and ratchet pruners are easier to use and require less hand strength.
  • Extension handles on trowels, rakes, and spreaders can make for less bending and reaching.
  • A kneeling bench can make getting up and down so much easier.       The seat can be used while working.
  • Placing pipe wrap on broom, rake, and shovel handles makes the grip a lot softer and easier to hold for someone with arthritis.
  • Using a simple long-handled grabber to reach behind plants to pick up yard waste avoids bending over.
  • A five-foot piece of PVC and a funnel can be used as a seed planter and prevents bending.
  • A light-weight hose, soaker hose, water kits, timers all make watering gardens easier.
  • Table gardens can be used on a deck or patio where garden space is not available.
  • Using a wheel barrow with two wheels provides better balance, or a lightweight garden cart with wide handles that is pulled instead of lifted like a wheel barrow is excellent for people with back problems.
  • Using empty milk bottles or plastic “peanuts” for the bottom of large containers saves soil and is lighter to lift or using light-weight potting soil keeps containers lighter.
  • Kneeling pads or benches help those with arthritic knees.
  • Using a tool carrier or carpenter’s apron for frequently-used garden tools.
  • Finally, gardeners are encouraged to design garden paths accessible by wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers; appropriate assistive canes; and tips for gardening safely.

Garden Smart-Garden Easy Handouts include:

  • Accessible Gardening Tips (tri-fold brochure used at multiple events to promote the program )*
  • Keep the Fun in Gardening – Coping with Physical Limitations*
  • Indoor Gardening: Houseplants*
  • Accessible Gardening in Containers*
  • Tools Make the Difference*
  • Easy Light Weight Potting Soil “Recipe” (used successfully by current master gardeners)
  • How to Construct a Raised Garden Bed (4’x8’x2’)*
  • Resources*
  • Grow Your Own Greens With Salad Tables™ and Salad Boxes™ – University of Maryland Cooperative Extension
    * Master Gardeners assisted in creation of these documents.

There is minimal start-up and continued costs: $600.00 for appropriate tools and $100.00 for a poster. Donations from businesses, master gardeners, and the county extension agent enhanced the collection of ergonomically-efficient tools used in the program. Printing of brochures, flyers, handouts, and posters, is provided by the Sussex County Extension office. Twenty Sussex County Master Gardener volunteers are active in the program.

For more information, visit the Sussex County Extension webpage at: http://extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/mg/sussex-county/ ; contact Garden Smart, Garden Easy Chairperson Bob Williams at boblynn@mchsi.com or Sussex County Extension Agent, Tracy Wootten, at wootten@udel.edu or 302-236-0298 cell; 302-856-7303.


Photos: To follow in sep