Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blowing in the Wind

"Blowing in the Wind"

“One does not begin to make a garden until he wants a garden. To want a garden is to be interested in plants, in the winds and rains, in birds and insects, in the warm-smelling earth.”
Liberty Hyde Bailey

When you live on the coast, you must often deal with strong winds. As an advocate, others must also have to deal with my occasional gusts of hot air. As my husband, and I headed to the large garden center this past Memorial Weekend, the infamous car without an accessible parking plate or placard, was using the access aisle as a parking space. It is illegal for anyone, with or without a placard to park on this striped area. The area is intended to be used by someone with an accessible van to deploy their lift or ramp.

Had the owner walked out to her car while I was exiting my van, I probably would have said a few unkind words to her. As it was, no one came around, and my husband and I went inside. As my husband was off doing his own thing, I came across an older woman who was having obvious difficulties with walking. She told me that she should get a chair like mine and asked me, “How much does one like that cost? I told her that an ultra-lightweight wheelchair was very expensive. I told her that a lot of times the bigger stores provided wheelchairs and carts at the front of the store. She also asked me if I had borrowed mine from the store. Oh well, I briefly explained to her that I had been using a wheelchair for 28 years, and I had purchased my own chair.

My husband and I proceeded to the garden section, and purchased an Arrowwood Viburnum, ‘Blue Muffin’, to replace our dead maple. We also purchased a few more flats of annuals (more pentas, zinnia and vinca) to have something to look forward to later this summer. As we were loading up the van, the lady that I had met from the inside of the store walked out, and to her car that was parked on the access aisle. I did not yell, but I took the time to explain to her that she was not parked in a parking space. (I still question how much she actually understood, but at least I tried to make my point.) She asked me who was going to plant all of the flowers, and seemed quite amazed that I could assist with such a feat.

A person cannot always expect a person with a disability, who often has to wait for the owner to come out, or who has to give a complete stranger their keys to back up their car because they can’t get back into their van, to be so patient. I remember another time quite vividly yelling at someone, after I had to wait in the cold at a mall in New England, while I was freezing and paying a babysitter by the hour. They told me I had an attitude, and maybe that day I did. My attitude reflected their inconsiderateness, and unreasonable expectation for me to wait out in the cold for them to come out of the store.

There will always be times where people with disabilities will speak up, especially when they are personally inconvenienced. “Not knowing” or “Only for a minute”, are never valid excuses for parking illegally. If someone blows off wind at you, chances are you probably deserve it.

There have been many other real windy times that I’ll never forget. As a parent, I remember getting a phone call from my son as he was out in his boat under a bridge watching a water spout. Another time, I told him and his friend to go play in the woods. Little did I know that later that afternoon, we would be under a tornado warning. As an adult, my son commissioned as an Officer in the US Navy, and spent eight months in the Persian Gulf. He was in charge of helicopter and small boat missions while defending an oil platform. He once told me of a hundred mph wind that came up, out of nowhere, after he had deployed two small boats. Everyone thankfully ended up safely back on deck. He later told me that his job was one of the most dangerous jobs on the ship. (Just what a Mom wants to hear.)

As an empty nester, advocacy and gardening are a way to keep me from worrying about those things that I can’t control. This past weekend, with the warm waters in the Atlantic, the winds wreaked their usual havoc on my plants. The longer we go without evacuating and preparing for a storm, the more containers and garden art I tend to accumulate. Through the years, I have had numerous plants knocked over and blown around. When the winds blow without rain, the containers and plants have a tendency to dry out.

My new elevated beds were blown fairly well by the wind. They are elevated even more than normal because they are up on the back deck. I lost a zucchini and, quite fortunately, nothing else so far. Heavy rain is supposedly on its way. My husband and I secured the trellises to the beds to prevent them from blowing over. For the most part, everything fared very well. It is still just the beginning of the hurricane season. I certainly hope that Beryl wasn’t any indication of what’s to come.

As a gardener on the coast, I have to have a plan in case we do need to evacuate quickly. I take a lot of pride in our yard and home. Protecting it to the fullest extent possible is necessary. Small objects, stray tools, and containers are brought into the garage to prevent them from becoming projectiles. Larger furniture and containers are moved in as well whenever possible. When I lived on my own, my neighbors would help me with securing everything safely. We keep a small plastic pool in the garage to set the containers in water in case we are gone for a few days. This is all part of our storm plan. We will pack up our pets, but the plants will be left behind. Fortunately, there are sedatives for the animals. My cat Shelby meows continuously just going to the vet that is only 3 miles away. Several hours is unthinkable.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Avocados and the Holy Punch

“Avocados and the Holy Punch”

I went to bed last night with a pit in my stomach, and I woke up this morning with a feeling as if I had been punched. When I’m stressed, I have a tendency to press my hand firmly against my face while I’m sleeping. I woke up with a red pressure area on my chin. It’s faded now, but sore. My husband jokingly referred to it as the “Holy Punch!” Actually he called it something else, but I had to change the name for this public blog. I laughed.

Last night, I went from this amazing, overwhelmingly intense feeling of happiness, to an overall emotion of discouragement. (I am not manic.) Oddly, I was already expecting that type of story to be produced in that publication. A story that downplayed the hardships endured with accessibility from people living with disabilities within and around the ‘Holy City’. The story seemed to highlight the supposed valiant efforts of the city, many efforts that could be easily refuted in all areas of access, including parks.

A few weeks earlier, I had been interviewed by someone who very pleasantly surprised me as a Freelance Reporter with a very genuine and personal understanding of the needs of people with disabilities. She, and her parents have all endured hardships that have made them all very strong people. Understandably, I realize that newspaper Editors have a tendency to do what they do, and in my book this Reporter is still awesome for trying to tackle such an issue in a city that can’t face the truth that accessibility is nonexistent for the most part and incredibly dangerous! She also did an outstanding job with her writing, and using the appropriate terminology. (This was a condition of our interview.)

Fortunately some good came out of this report on the accessibility of the ‘Holy City’, and for that I’m appreciative. I’ve made new contacts, new friends, and have been introduced socially to real people who genuinely reflect a positive attitude, no matter what life throws at them. I’ve met real people who know the daily struggles of any person living with a disability. If you add to that, the lack of accessibility in every aspect of life, it is understandable why many are frustrated and discouraged with life in general.

Once again, I find myself digging very deeply within to find my smile, and to focus on the sunrise. This week, I have been listed as a Contributor with an International Publication on Horticultural Therapy and Horticulture. It’s still in the works, but it seems like a great opportunity. This will be an opportunity to have even more fun at doing something that I actually truly enjoy.

The pit in my stomach will disappear as I think about gardening. I see this as being a transformation very similar to that of an avocado becoming a tree, or a bean becoming a bush with lots of beans. The raised beds with vegetables that I planted just a few weeks ago are doing quite well. My new seedlings are reaching towards the sky. I had given up on growing veggies a few years ago, until last year when I saw the open spaces around my yard as an opportunity to grow something that I could actually eat. This year I decided to purchase a few elevated beds, and have them on my porch. I know the difficulties of pests, insects, and diseases when trying to grow anything.

Let the battle begin. The outcomes are certainly worth it. I try to utilize organic preventative practices whenever possible, because I’ve seen dead bees in my yard in the past. My Master Gardener friends would refer to this battle as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), with the use of either chemical/biological and mechanical controls. Last year, after encountering many daily insect battles, and after witnessing a tobacco horn worm eating my cherry tomatoes, bite by bite, I found myself becoming somewhat brutal with my hand pruning shears, with my secateurs. This was probably in July, when the temperatures were close to 100 degrees, and I found myself watering twice a day. (Probably after a meeting too.)

I know that a more ethical treatment would have been the use insecticidal soap, and to have handpicked the caterpillars off of my tomatoes, one by one, and to have placed them gently in a solution of dishwashing soap and warm water. This trick I actually learned from my genetics class in college when we were examining the traits in Drosophilae (fruit flies).

(They didn't have a snake....)

In life, some of us get bopped more frequently from the giant bop bag than others. (For those of you who have no idea of what I am referring to, a bop bag is an inflatable cartoon character, about 3 feet high, filled with sand at the bottom. You repeatedly hit it, and it continually comes back at you for you to whack again.) Others manage to avoid it completely. Regardless, we all deal with whatever life throws our way.

Avocados can turn dark very quickly. I learned a trick this past week regarding placing the actual avocado pit, (obviously being careful not to eat it, which seems impossible to do, but you never know), into the Guacamole to delay this process. I’ve always just used lemon juice, but I was told through a friend that this also works.

Occasionally, in the garden there are insects and pests that make our task seemingly never ending. Sometimes, we can simply remove these pests, or remove the damaged plant areas, and at other times we are forced to use whatever treatment we deem necessary. Hopefully, we opt for the safest treatment to avoid injuring the beneficial insects, and to reduce any potential toxic use of chemicals.

Dealing with equal accessibility in this area has definitely been very similar to getting whacked repeatedly. I question how some communities, i.e. Tybee Island, Georgia, can understand so well that good access is good business. Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell’s Inlet, SC has a beautiful and very accessible garden whereas some gardens keep using crushed stone or sand. Last week our media ran another story about how a women and her family was denied access to the beach because she had a service animal with her. It sometimes seems endless. To quote a new friend, SMH! (Shaking My Head!)


Monday, May 14, 2012

For the Love of Advocacy, Writing, and Leaf Blowers

“For the Love of Advocacy, Writing, and Leaf Blowers”
All Rights Reserved, Kevin Bruce Parent Photography with Permission

People generally have been very quick to determine two things out about me. I don’t like telephones, and if I don’t know something, I have no inhibition about asking a question. I ask myself questions almost constantly. I have always been extremely inquisitive. From asking questions, whether we look up the answer ourselves, consult an expert via writing or as in my case as a last resort we make an occasional phone call, we learn.

In life, it can be very annoying being around people who think that they do have all of the answers, especially when you know that they possibly don’t. Interestingly enough, quite often the best strategy that I have found is to not make an issue with the things that you think you know for certain. I honestly think that this is a good quality of a true friend or companion. You learn what is really important and worth negating. I may later make my point by forwarding the necessary supportive documentation. This, more than likely, is a result of having once worked as an Auditor. If I am wrong, I will determine and acknowledge that too. The important thing is for real friends to effectively communicate what is really necessary, even when they're very angry with you. Friends also show their support through encouragement regarding what the other person is up to, even when they may not have a personal interest. (For this, I am extremely appreciative.)

When something very seemingly unjust occurs, I do not hesitate to ask why either. I have learned from experience to think about what I’m going to say, and how I’m going to say it before I open my mouth. I also put a lot of emphasis on the “to whom?” am I going to say it to. When you have to wait excessively to check out or be seated, because there is only one aisle that you can fit through or there are only two tables that have been put together for a large party and there is nowhere else that you can sit because they only have booths, you learn that yelling at the clerk doesn’t do you a lot of good. Admittedly, sometimes it happens, but better outcomes are achieved by finding out who actually owns the facility or who is ultimately held accountable for the actions of their employees. When I can get through to them in a positive way, this gives me a feeling of being unstoppable.

The feeling of empowerment can be a good thing. I’m not always a control freak, believe me. There was a time in my life that I was more so, but I have reached a certain level of maturity where I like to see others take initiative and for them to be in charge. I may advise occasionally, but I don’t always have to tell people what to do. (Some may not believe me on this, but it is true.) Now, if you plan on doing something halfway and not wholeheartedly, I will be heard. When I do anything, I put over 100% into it and I expect others to do the same.

This week has really been awesome! Initially, when I started blogging, I thought I would only be reaching out to people with disabilities, or to those getting older. Surprisingly, there is an international interest in adaptive gardening, and I love it! There is simply a universal interest in gardening for all people. I am inclined to believe that horticulture as therapy is finally becoming more widespread in the USA. My media interviews this week have dealt specifically with issues relative to Access to the Garden, and have involved the home garden. There is a huge interest in raised beds, containers and tools that make gardening easier for all people.

Life in the suburbs often means being surrounded by people who know of no other way to garden other than by using power tools. I almost prefer the mow, blow and go guys because they are in and out very quickly. I will not wear ear plugs in my home office, so I intentionally try to schedule my work around the noise. Often, I’ll pull out my own electric blower and wage a noise war. Subconsciously, I want to do this at 2 a.m. This all reminds me of a funny song that I once heard on the Bob and Tom show by the Asylum Street Spankers called Leaf Blower. (Hysterical, to me anyway. No worries though, I don’t have any desire to use a gun.)

Yes, I’m a wee bit whacky at times, but life is too short. I keep the peace with my neighbors, although I’ve never strictly adhered to the covenants. I’ve tried to let them know beforehand exactly what I’m doing. We have stupid rules about front yard vegetable gardens, boats, basketball goals, clotheslines, etc. I personally would prefer more rules prohibiting wasteful practices, chemical pesticides and herbicides, irrigation use during rain, and excessive noise. I would also allow chickens……..

Good companionship is also important in the garden. Plants have to get along too. Native plants seem to be a logical choice. Plant selection requires choosing and placing plants in locations with other plants with similar needs (sunlight and watering requirements). The same is true within my containers, yet I still take chances and mix things up occasionally. (I don't like segregation.) Because I am in the South, my plants have to be very drought tolerant. Unlike my Canadian gardening friends, my Coneflowers are blooming now. For late summer color, I include Zinnia, Sunflowers and Lantana. My soil tends to be very sandy, making the use of compost essential. Mulch is also important to retain moisture. I have learned to integrate my gardens with the use of containers for the plants that require either extra hand watering or for those that require less water. I have tropical plants mixed in, and I know that with extra care in the winter they can survive.

If I was designing a community garden, I would be certain to have areas integrated within the garden with raised beds and containers. Wider rows and hard surface pathways would also be included. Herbs would be used to create a sensory garden. I know that space and a quality outcome are important, but with proper planning this can be maximized. Obviously, not everyone with a disability uses a wheelchair. I would plan my garden based on including all people within my community, and consider the fact that anyone can acquire a disability at any time. We’re not exclusive.

In my day to day life, I advocate for full inclusion of people with disabilities into every aspect of life by providing equal access. This is starting to happen naturally in all environments because of Civil Rights laws, and because the majority of our population is getting older. I have a weak grasp from my cervical spinal cord injury. People with arthritis do too. I don’t like to lean over, but neither does my husband who doesn’t use a wheelchair. He spent many years playing Hockey as a Goalie, and now has little cartilage left in his knees. Without glasses, neither of us can read anything in print. (I keep a cheap pair of glasses in the garage to read the directions on garden products.) Survival has been the ability to adapt and to effectively communicate when necessary, even by the use of a well written letter without ever having to talk on a telephone.

Monday, May 7, 2012


“Plant On!”

When I think of chickens, I think of my departed, and very happily remembered father. He once told my husband, “that being married to a Brown woman was like being pecked to death by a flock of chickens.” I couldn’t agree more, but somehow I don’t think this pertained to only the women in my family. I also remember my dad’s 6’ 3 ½” gangly body dancing around doing the chicken dance. Lastly, I remember making fun of his long skinny chicken legs, until one day while sitting out in the lawn together, I vividly remembered looking over at him and having the realization that I had the same exact bone structure. Chicken legs and all, there is no denying where I acquired my passion for gardening.

My grandmother had a farm which included cows, and a couple of chicken coups. I, admittedly, was terrified of the chickens. I didn’t mind feeding them, but I was terrified when I was asked to gather the eggs and was occasionally forced to remove an egg from underneath one. I never liked going into the chicken coups either. The coups seemed like they were the perfect hiding place for snakes. Yes, this gardener is terrified of snakes. This week I have seen several pictures of snakes on various Facebook garden pages informing everyone that they are out there. I’ve seen my usual share, mostly rat snakes, and I know they have a significant purpose. I just don’t like the occasional surprise, and I am somewhat cautious when moving my containers.

This week I allowed a reporter from our local newspaper to interview me for an article on accessibility within the region, and I very openly answered many personal questions regarding my life with a spinal cord injury. Many people would actually be quite surprised to hear that I detest conflict, and I hate speaking publicly. I’d much rather write. I do know that when I do have to speak, I generally overcome any anxiety because I know that I will be talking about something that I am very passionate about, and that what I do will improve the lives of all. Even the same people who opposed me 20 years ago, and are now the aging baby boomers. Irony at its best!

When I encounter inaccessible places this day and age, I do take it personal. The bottom line is that equal access is a Civil Right, and it is one that we are still fighting for. Years ago, people with disabilities felt the overwhelming responsibility of being what we use to call the “ADA police”. Where I live, it is unfortunately still that way. I can’t understand how anything new can be built, i.e. a huge performing arts center, an internationally known tennis facility, all without line of sight viewing, integrated seating, and/or other non-discriminatory policies. I am surrounded by political leaders that oppose enforcement, and initiate bills that would defeat the law’s purpose. We have a Governor who initiates statewide policies that openly discriminate. How sad is that? Yet, I keep at it. I seriously look forward to the day that I no longer have a job!

My son recently posted the link to my Access to the Garden page on his Facebook page encouraging anyone interested in gardening, to check out his mom’s page and blog. My sister also commented that anyone seeking inspiration, regardless of their interest in gardening or not, should check it out too. Both comments were flattering, and made me realize that my blog has a much larger appeal than what I initially realized.

The most important thing is that I’m doing this because I really enjoy it. As long as I garden, and I travel to public gardens, I will have something to say. I cover all areas from gardening with a disability, to access, to aging, to dealing with hormonal mood swings, tool and plant selection, the benefits of horticultural therapy, and the general overall passion of getting one’s hands dirty. I don’t consider what I do to be remarkable, but if I can inspire anyone to do anything then I am content. If I can inspire anyone to look beyond themselves, I’m ecstatic.

I use organic fertilizers in my garden. Chicken poop is my favorite. Maybe it’s my way at getting back at my neighbors who don’t appreciate my uniqueness. The interviewer asked me if I could change anything in my life, would I? Most definitely, but I don’t sit around asking “Why me, lord?” My answer is always, “Why not me?” I’m appreciative of every breath that I take, and if I don’t like something in my garden or in my life, I will make every effort to change it. Some days I love my garden, and other days I hate it. That’s life. Today, I am loving it!

If you can’t get to the garden, there is no reason why you can’t bring the garden to you. My raised beds are in the perfect location on my back porch. I also have some containers out there too. If you have neighborhood covenants that are so restrictive about having vegetable gardens and sustainability, then squeeze vegetable plants and herbs into your existing landscape. I can almost guarantee you that most people won’t know the difference.

At the end of my interview, I gave the Reporter a tour of my garden and talked about Access to the Garden. She said that as soon as I was out there and talking about my plants, my whole personal demeanor changed instantly. Granted I had just relived the most stressful moments of the last 28 years of my life, my garden obviously reflects a lot of well spent therapy time. Plant on!

I find it interesting that this week I have chosen to talk about snakes, politicians, and chicken poop all in the same blog. All I can say is that there is a whole lot of undisclosed meaning behind that. I brought up my father and grandmother, even though we didn’t always agree, because they were where I acquired my strong moral backbone from. I wish more people would find the strength within themselves to say when something is morally wrong when they know within their hearts that it is. In the meantime, I will continue to advocate for what’s right. When things get intense, I have my garden to retreat to.