Author offers gardening tips for seniors

Here are ways that older folks, or those with disabilities, can still find joy in growing their own vegetables …

Growing vegetables in a garden box makes gardening fun and easy for seniors, as Patty Cassidy and Amanda Kelley-Lopez demonstrate in this Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood community garden.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Well known for her work with the Portland Memory Garden, horticultural therapist Patty Cassidy MA, HTR, has also shared her knowledge by authoring the book The Illustrated Practical Guide for Gardening for Seniors.

On July 16, Cassidy traveled to the Ed Benedict Community Garden, just off SE Powell Boulevard on SE 104th Avenue, to teach a class she called Making Decisions about What to Grow.

“Gardeners tend to idealize what they want to grow, versus what is most appropriate – given the available space, time, and energy,” Cassidy told East Portland News.

In addition to telling how to select “user-friendly” vegetable plants, she also showed appropriate gardening tools.

Raised-bed gardening makes it easier for seniors to grow vegetables and flowers, says instructor Patty Cassidy.

Younger people don’t mind getting down on their knees, and digging in a garden bed, but Cassidy pointed out it’s hard for seniors. That’s why she focuses on helping older adults who want to learn how to do raised-bed gardening.

“Raised beds are a lot easier on the body,” Cassidy said. Many older people would rather be standing, or perhaps sitting on the side of the bed, so they don’t have to use their knees, they don’t have to be bending over.”

And, raised beds help contain the garden space, making it easier to observe; and also making not seem so vast and overwhelming a space.

Showing how to plant “spinach starts” is horticultural therapy intern Amanda Kelley-Lopez of EarthTones.

“In this garden box we have cucumbers, red runner beans, carrots, and peppers,” Cassidy pointed out. “When the carrots are ready to harvest, we can put something else in that garden space. We try to rotate the crops we put in there.”

Although it is currently the middle of summer, she was talking about planting winter crops.

“We want to eat fresh vegetables as late into the fall as we can,” Cassidy said. “So, you need to start planting, in succession, the things that you want to eat. There are some crops that are more favorable to colder weather.”

Good winter crops here in the outer East Portland area include:

  • Greens,
  • Spinach,
  • Beets, and
  • Mesclun lettuce, such as arugula.


Using a section of foam pipe insulation gives garden tools a cushioned handle grip.

She recommended buying lightweight plastic tools that are sturdy enough to use in a raised-bed garden, instead of using heavy implements that sap energy unnecessarily.

“I also have several examples here of adaptive tools,” Cassidy remarked. “It’s easy to modify gardening tools for a handgrip, if the gardener has arthritis. It’ll help them convert a tool into something more comfortable and easier for them to use.”

With her intern, Cassidy demonstrated how to plant vegetable “starts” that have already sprouted and have roots.

Sprinkling a handful of seeds in prepared soil is all that’s needed to grow some crops.

“I also want people to learn how to sow seeds,” Cassidy said. “Sowing seeds is more economical than using starts.

“Because I have a small space here, I’m not going to worry about putting them in rows and doing perfect spacing,” Cassidy demonstrated. “So we’re going to fluff up the soil, sprinkle in some seeds, lightly cover them over, and water them.”

Patty Cassidy rakes soil over planted seeds she’s “naturalized” – freely sown – in the bed.

Cassidy teaches other classes. Get in touch with her by emailing

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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