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The Parkinsonís Mailbag

PD-Friendly Gardening

One of my favorite summertime activities is gardening, an enjoyable hobby but one which requires a good bit of planning if it is to be Parkinson's-friendly. Over the years I've discovered many tips to make gardening as simple as possible for a person with PD.

Picking your plants
Before you start digging, spend some time thinking about what you would like to plant. If you are partial to flowers, you may want to plant high-stemmed varieties so that you can sniff and cut them without bending to the ground.

If vegetables are your interest, try to avoid selections that have to be dug up and that require kneeling, such as potatoes and carrots. Separate the rows by at least 18 inches, so that you can tend to your crops without stumbling over them or falling. Remember that vegetables need frequent and abundant watering. Since standing for an extended period of time requires considerable stamina, it is advisable to purchase a soaker hose. Place the hose alongside your walking path to avoid tripping, and wear waterproof footwear to keep your feet from getting wet and cramping. MuckBootsô - waterproof, durable, easy on-off shoes and boots - can be ordered at or by calling (877) 215-6778; prices start at $39.95.

If you don't have the space or inclination to grow things outdoors, a window box of flowers or herbs may be a good choice. Visit to see a selection of attractive window boxes. The company says that catalogues will be available starting fall 2005, and may be requested by calling (866) YARDIAC.

Being prepared
While you probably want to get started, there are a few things you should be thinking about before you break ground. When purchasing clippers and bulb planters, look for long-handled versions (two to three feet). These provide you with more control and eliminate the need to use a potentially-dangerous ladder. Visit or your local Home Depot store for a selection of long-handled tools, including the Hound Dogģ Stand-Up Bulb Planter and Transporter, available for $19.79.

One of your most important garden accessories is a pair of gloves that gives you a sturdy grip on tools while protecting your hands. The Stanley Hand Helpers Cut Protector Gloves can be ordered for $7.49 at or by calling (800) 282-4393. To eliminate unnecessary trips to the tool shed, another useful accessory is the tool belt or apron. A mobile storage cart can fulfill the same function. Peggy Willocks of Tennessee points out that a mobile storage cart also provides a place to sit when you need a break. One option is the Garden Scooter, which costs $29.99 at This scooter doubles as a work seat and a storage space for tools.

If you opt not to go with the cart, be sure to wear knee pads or use some other sort of cushioning to protect your knees when kneeling. For a variety of knee pads, visit or call (888) 300-8200. They feature pads from lightweight to hard cap, starting at $4.95.

Keep your medications in mind
Knowing when your medications are most effective and when you might expect an "off" period can help you select the best time to garden. Be sure to create an outdoor, protected set-up of your medications, sorted in an easily-opened pillbox. Wear a watch with a reminder device to alert you when it's time to take your medications, and have plenty of water available, since many PD meds can cause dehydration.

Sometimes, our PD meds can cause sensitivity to sunlight. To avoid too much sun exposure, wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, apply sunscreen and avoid going out during the hot hours of the day. Gordon and Thea Seese from Montana suggest wearing blue-tinted sunglasses to cut down on the sun's glare.

Safety first!
Now that you are ready to start gardening, here are a few last-minute tips to keep you safe. First, leave a note telling the people you live with that you are outside. In case of an emergency, keep a well-charged portable or cell phone with you. To prevent rigidity, stretch before beginning your tasks. This, along with frequent changing of positions, can ward off stiffness. Implementing these tips will create the most pleasant environment in which to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

In an upcoming issue of The Parkinson's Mailbag, I will be writing about tips for dining out with PD. Please send any suggestions you have on this to me, care of PDF, at 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509, New York, NY 10018, or email your tips to

Ivan Suzman has lived with young-onset Parkinson's disease for 20 years. He works with PDF on various projects, including writing his regular newsletter column, The Parkinson's Mailbag.