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  • Jennifer Jewell


Ross Gay - Poet & Gardener, Photo by Natasha Komoda |


Toni Gattone is a business woman, a master gardener, and a lifelong gardener of Italian descent.

After struggling herself with a bad back, and the limitations this put on her as an active human and gardener, she began to research the idea of adaptive gardening.

Based on all that she discovered and her own experiments and adaptations in her small Bay area garden that she shares with her husband, she wrote The Lifelong Gardener – Garden With Ease and Joy at Any Age (Timber Press, 2019).

In the late stages of our current growing season here in the Northern Hemisphere, and in my own mid-to-late middle age, I figure there is never a better time than now to learn more about adapting to the realities of where we are, who we are, and how to make the best of both.

“It’s about being resilience and finding a way to get

beyond the tragedy, the traumas, the challenges

that life presents and find another way to get it done.....

Never give up."

Toni Gattone, The Lifelong Gardener

In her book The Lifelong Gardener, Toni Gattone writes: "We all love to garden, yet many gardening tasks like raking, pruning, weeding, digging, can play havoc with our bodies…drum roll please: Adaptive gardening to the rescue." In our conversation and in the book, Toni shares what she’s learned through research and life about gardening with greater physical ease at any age. Including advice for new gardeners of any age to start from the beginning thinking creatively and proactively about ergonomic comfort in your very first garden designs.

In The Lifelong Gardener, Toni includes a list of Daily BE attitudes she encourages us to adopt. These include: "Be in a glass half full state of mind, Be Active and Keep Moving, Be resilient Be Humble enough to ask for help, be good to your body, be generous with your community and Be Joyful."

I can work with these kinds of garden Be - ings – what about you?

Join us again next week when we’re focused on growing food and community with we’re joined by Patricia Spence of the Urban Farm Institute of Boston, working to grow more food, train more farmers, and build healthier communities everywhere. Listen in!

Follow Toni and her garden journey online at and on Instagram: @tonigattone/






I love the emphasis Toni places on paying attention and increasing our own awareness of where we are – what is a tripping hazard, a movement that hurts, a position that’s better than others for our shoulders, knees, elbows, wrists, necks and more.

In The Life-Long Gardener Toni includes many resources including an adaptive gardening Action Plan for you to fill out the first line item of, which is GARDENER KNOW THYSELF. Ha.

She also has loads of resources for adaptive gardening programs including, links to ergonomic tool reviews, and a whole reading list of Books on Resilience and Joy. (See the list in this week’s episode notes on Cultivating

Just in general, That seems like a good late summer back to school assignment to me. I think I will start with The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

Have books you want to add to this list? Send me an email or comment on this week’s episode post on Cultivating Place’s Instagram account! I’ll add to the list with any you send!

The irony is not lost on me that sometimes it is our very ability to adapt that blinds us. Just one example, we move to a new space – house or garden – and we set it up kind of thinking through it all – where the hoses go, where the standing tools and potting soil or pots themselves go, and then ….. 5 years, ten years, 20 years later we are still living with this same arrangement even though it became apparent to us within weeks that the initial set up did not make sense in one or two ways, was not the most efficient or comfortable, or helpful. Case in point - I set up my two covered compost bins in my suburban garden too darn close to the fence, making it difficult to open the bins with one hand, which I am routinely attempting to do anyway because I walk over to them with my hands full of sloppy compost from the kitchen or an armload of clippings from the garden. EVERY WEEK I do this. It means I have to set my load down, losing some in the maneuver, use both hands to pry the lid off the bin and then gather the gleanings back to get them into the bin. And then without fail not put the lid back on securely because I have to tip the bin away from the fence a bit to get the lid back on and so the lid falls off and either creatures get in or the bin dries out….

I am sorry you even had to listen to this admission of awkward and lazy fumbling in my garden. What do you think I am up to this weekend? Yep. I will be working on the analytical re-adapting walk through of my little garden in order to mark or remove the more physically painful of its quirks if I can – like the hose I have to step over on my way to the compost with my arms full – but that’s another adaptation to unlearn....

Unlearning is hard. But spending time in my garden to re-see and really see her – well, that’s worth every second.




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