By Alana Pugh
Looking for ways to garden in comfort and safety, with ease and joy? On October 18, join Toni Gattone, adaptive gardening expert and author of “The Lifelong Gardener, Garden with Ease and Joy at Any Age,” in their online seminar “You CAN Garden for Life!” This class features tips and tricks to make gardening a lifelong journey, despite any obstacles that may come up in the garden and life.
Today, we’re chatting with Toni Gattone as she shares advice that helped her overcome personal struggles in her own gardening journey. Gattone runs her own YouTube channel and blog, is an accomplished author, and speaks to audiences across the country. Read on to discover how Gattone discovered her passion for sharing the message of adaptive gardening, how it changed her life, and how it can change yours.
Mt. Cuba: As an adaptive gardening expert, you have cultivated a lifestyle that revolves around the intersection of aging and gardening. What inspired you to begin removing barriers to gardening and why did you decide to share it with others?
Toni Gattone: After becoming certified as a Master Gardener, I wanted to find a way to give back to our community. Many of my classmates grew up on organic farms and could talk for hours about growing vegetables and managing orchards. I questioned what made me unique and how I could be of service.
When severe back pain became chronic, all I knew was that I had to find a way to feel better so I could get out to prune my rose bushes. (We gardeners are a funny lot, aren’t we?) One afternoon, I remembered an article I read about adaptive gardening, so I spent the next several weeks researching the subject while I was recuperating. It did not take me long to realize I was not alone, and this could be my way of giving back.
Mt. Cuba: Declining health can sometimes mean life-changing adjustments. What words of encouragement do you have for those who notice changes in their health are impacting their favorite activities?
Toni Gattone: The first step is to accept what is. As we age, our bodies go through changes, and that is part of the natural process. Whatever your physical challenges, it is important to define what is important to you and your happiness. Then establish what you are still comfortable doing, and where you need to make changes. Be realistic. Create a list of the tasks that would be better left to someone else. Talk to your neighbors and friends and ask them if they can recommend someone you can hire to help.
Mt. Cuba: In your book, “The Lifelong Gardener: Garden with Ease and Joy at Any Age,” your message of resilience and changing mindsets extends far beyond the garden. How did you embrace change at the beginning of your own journey?
Toni Gattone: In a recent three-part blog series, The Magic of Metaphors: Care Instructions for Our Gardens and Our Lives, I outline nine elements and practices on how nurturing our gardens and our lives are inexplicably intertwined. Using the garden as a metaphor, I draw parallels of thriving as much-needed wellness inside and outside of the garden gate.
“To nurture an environment that supports healthy growth and sustains us through times when conditions and circumstances are not ideal, we need to have nutrient-rich, fertile soil, loosely surrounding the seeds in our garden and in our lives. This will strengthen the roots and the root ball that is our community.”
Mt. Cuba: On your website, you mention that you did not find your true calling until you suffered from chronic and severe back pain. What easy change would you recommend for people in similar situations to continue gardening?
Toni Gattone: Yes, it is true. Being a gardener was a huge part of my life and the primary focus of my business for nearly thirty years was in the garden industry. When back pain became unbearable, I knew I needed to adapt and find ways to exercise my resilience muscle.
Resilience is your ability to adapt well and recover quickly after setbacks, loss, trauma, or tragedy. When you have a resilient disposition, you are better able to maintain poise and a healthy level of physical and psychological wellness in the face of life’s challenges.
Resilience will not make your problems go away – but it can help you see past them, find joy in life, and handle setbacks when they strike. You may still feel anger, grief, disappointment, and pain, but you can keep functioning and moving forward, which is the most important thing.
I believe the key question to ask is: “How can I be more resilient in my life and create bouncebackability?”
Mt. Cuba: At. Mt. Cuba, we love to use native plants in our landscapes. What would you say are the benefits of using native plants for adaptive gardening?
Toni Gattone: There are so many benefits of incorporating native plants in our adapted gardens. Primarily, once they are established, native plants are generally low maintenance, which will save you valuable time and energy. Second, they reduce your water consumption, saving our all-too-precious water supply, and even the need for adding fertilizer and pesticides. Third, by choosing native plants for your landscaping, you provide habitat for wildlife, food for pollinators, and you are creating a healthier place for yourself, your family, and your community.
Mt. Cuba: How can adaptive gardening help gardeners create a sustainable garden?
Toni Gattone: I recently did a virtual consultation with a woman who was remodeling her front yard and needed to add a new path to her front door. She loved the idea of a curving flagstone walk with stones in between.
She is in her sixties, so I asked her, “What if you need to have your hip replaced, or use a walker or a wheelchair? How will you safely get to your front door with all those loose stones?”
After a long pregnant pause, that one question got her thinking. She revised her garden design to include a 4’ wide solid surface path.
Hardscape is expensive so when you are making changes, make the right changes today for the future, and you won’t have to re-do them later.
Mt. Cuba: We appreciate you taking the time to chat with us! Before we wrap-up is there anything else you would like our readers to know about your upcoming class?
Toni Gattone: My class is fast-moving with many tips, tools, and techniques to help you re-think how you work in your garden and how you can re-imagine your garden, not just for today, but for the future. When you register, you will receive a handout that will help you take notes so you can refer to it any time you put on your adaptive gardening glasses.
Toni Gattone is a Master Gardener located in Larkspur, CA. She is a successful author, speaker, and gardener, and has spread the word of adaptive gardening and resilience to audiences of all ages. In 2021, Gattone won the Gold Medal Award for Speaking from GardenComm International for her adaptive gardening seminar.