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Disability Opens New Doors for a Lifelong Gardener

Laurie Reiser
Laurie Reiser gardens in raised beds.

Laurie Reiser has been gardening for her entire life. As a child, she followed her mom around the family garden in Michigan. During her "hippie" days in Tucson, she experimented with organic gardening. For the last 14 years she has been learning how to garden in the difficult climate of Grand Junction, in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. But the challenge she is facing now is far more daunting than changeable weather and insect pests. Four years ago Laurie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Though she needs a walker to get around, she's adjusted her garden to suit her lifestyle and is excited about helping others to do the same.

Adaptive Gardening

Laurie has scaled back the size of her garden and is employing a range of adaptive gardening techniques. "I've reduced the size and number of gardens and what I can realistically grow," she says. While raised beds and containers may be convenient for some gardeners, for Laurie they are essential. She has seven Terrazza Square Planters and four Terrazza Trough Planters. "I've adapted the planters to my growing situation and physical needs. Although the Terrazza planters are self-watering, Laurie's water supply is loaded with silt and it clogged up the reservoirs. "I still use the Terrazza planters because they are made from a polycarbonate material that doesn't degrade in the sun. The size is perfect for growing many types of plants and I'm able to reach into the middle from all sides," says Laurie. She also has propped the planters up on cinder blocks for better access. "Now the planters stand almost 40 inches tall, so they're easier for me to reach," she says.

Laurie's garden usually includes tomatoes, peppers, herbs, lettuce, eggplant and annual flowers, such as marigolds and nasturtiums. "I use the Tomato Ladders to trellis my plants," she says. "They're plastic-coated to last a long time and they're strong enough to support the plants and sometimes me as well." She explains, "Sometimes when I'm moving around the planters I need to hold onto the ladders for balance so I know they really are sturdy."

Composting for Healthy Soil
Laurie Reiser and California poppies
California poppies thrive in the Rocky Mountain west.

To keep her plants healthy and productive, Laurie makes compost almost continuously in a bank of four Pyramid Composters. She throws all her kitchen vegetable scraps, weeds and old plants into one composter, and once it is filled she moves on to fill the next. "This technique means that I don't need to do any turning to get the finished compost. It's easy to get the compost out at the bottom, and the Rodent Screens keep unwanted visitors away," she says.

Instead of turning inward because of her physical limitations, Laurie's disability has inspired her to reach out into the community. She has become a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and is working with the local Extension office to build an adaptive garden where some of the techniques she's discovered can be demonstrated. Laurie also likes pulling people together on projects. "Gardening is a community effort," she says. "I'm working with the local MS Society, 4-H, Master Gardener volunteers and the Extension Service to build tabletop and container gardens. We hope to install them in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the area," she says.

Laurie's disease has taught her how important it is to share her knowledge and connect with other people. "I've had to adapt my own life and I know there are many others who also have to respond to physical challenges. After many years of gardening this has become my new niche," she says.

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