My garden 2008- Three years post-stroke       
Gardening has been part of my life since I was a young girl. The garden is a place where I recharge, where I dream and relax, and where I feel at peace. I was determined that I would garden again after my stroke and I have achieved that goal. But I did not return to gardening all at once, it took baby steps, a lot of them, to return top gardening form. When I had my first weekend day pass from rehab, and before my husband built a ramp to our house, I asked to sit outside in my garden. It was February. I couldn’t go into the house because I was still wheelchair-bound, but I could sit and breathe in nature even if it was only in my small suburban lot. I will remember that day forever. That was my first baby step; the gathering of my determination.

Gradually when I was able to walk again, I began small chores in the garden, pull a weed here, and pinch a flower there. With the help of a few gardening implements I was eventually able to dig in, and today I garden much as I once did. I even dig out plants with one arm and a transplant spade. There is some risk; it’s far easier to fall, but to me it’s worth it and there’s much you can do to mitigate that risk.

Tractors and carts

The most valuable tool for me is The Tractor Scout. I can’t stand for too long even now, and this small tractor allows me to sit periodically when I garden, or I can garden while sitting when I’m weeding near the edge of the bed. The ample seat (ahem!) swivels and the newer models hold a TubTrug* for convenience. There are some problems with them. The older models are quite difficult to steer and the wheels don’t manipulate easily. The tractor often requires pulling to the next spot and re-jigging the wheels. You have to be careful on inclines because you might get smacked in the back of the legs and knocked over if you are not careful.  And I often forget which direction the tractor should face( so I can access the tools with my left hand) and I end up having to turn it around all the time- but that’s just me. The newer model comes with a longer handle to steer with. I’ve often thought a small steering wheel would be easier. But all in all it’s a life- saver, and I use my trusty steed constantly. If you can only get the older version, tie a rope to the handle for easier pulling.

As of summer 2010 you can buy the older version at Lee Valley Tools. (A Canadian mail order company.)

As of summer 2010 you can buy at updated version(with longer handle) at Vesey’s Seeds (a Canadian mail order company)

As of summer 2010 you can buy the cadillac model at Gardener’s Supply Company (American)

If you are more mobile you can try kneeling stools. They are lower and more difficult to get up from (don’t use them if you have only one usable arm because they’ll tip),but are more comfortable than kneeling on the ground, and have handles that you can push off from.


Kneeler Stool and Tool Holder

Can be purchased at Lee Valley Tools.

It’s important always to conserve energy when you are doing any exercise, especially gardening. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but when you think about it, it makes sense. You don’t want to exhaust yourself running around preparing to exercise.It wears me out. This is particularly so with gardening, so I try to have all of my tools together in one place and portable.


Garden Tool Cart-found at Lee Valley Tools

I put all my tools in one of these so I can push them around with me and they are there when I need them. The bag holder is handy but not the best.

You always need a cart when gardening to hold soil or mulch. Wheelbarrows just don’t work with one hand! I use a plastic cart I bought in Home Depot (sorry-couldn’t find a picture) that works well. It’s sturdy and well balanced and you can push it with one hand. It has slots near the handle for holding tools.

Other carts that look good:

Poly-Trough Cart from Gardener’s Supply

Vermont-Style Garden Cart from Veseys


Smart Cart from Lee valley Tools




Over the years I have developed my own gardening technique to allow me to do most of the gardening chores I once did. Now I can do just about everything. Here are some of the tools and tricks I use.

We have a corner lot and most of our yard is in the front of the house bordered by sidewalk. We have made it over entirely to garden. Years ago my husband Ian took down the fence for easier access, left the posts in and painted them black because they were cemented solidly in the soil and were too heavy to move. When painted black, they became unobtrusive and more or less disappeared into the garden. When I began to garden after my stroke I found theses posts to be invaluable aids and I’d grab on to them when I need to move about, and quite often lean against them when I’m digging. I use a modified ski pole with the basket removed as a movable pole to steady myself when I want to access inner parts of the garden that I can’t reach from my tractor.

Reaching is often difficult when you have a stroke, and particularly so when you’re gardening. It’s only too easy when you’re stretching out to nip a flower head, to lose your balance and fall. I use a Handi-Grip Reacher to gather up cuttings or branches in the garden, or, as is often the case in our inner-city garden, garbage. These can be fond at most disability supply stores.

 I use a pruning rod from Lee Valley Tools that is light enough (just) to cut plants deeper in the bed. Think horizontal as well as vertical.This particular rod is telescopic and can be used for several distances. (We have a bigger and longer lopping tool but I am not strong enough yet to manage its weight with one arm.) It takes a little strength to manipulate the pruning rod and may require practice, but don’t give up, it’s do-able. Just remember not to take too many risks if you can’t do it, your strength will improve with time (One of the reasons why you need to keep on weight training!).

Long Arm Pruners from Lee Valley

Paper leaf bags are endlessly frustrating . Because I have short arms I can never open the bags all the way to the bottom without tearing the bag. I sort of stick my arm in and wave it back and forth to try and get it to stay open. Last summer I bought a 2 inch plastic ring to help keep the bags open and a found it marginally helpful. I bought mine at Lee Valley (but I don’t see them on their site now). I did find them today on Amazon however.

Paper Yard Waste Bag and Support

I have recently noticed a new product in Gardener’s Supply that looks good and I may give it a try.


Leaf-Bagging Helper


These colourful little 5 gallon plastic containers are priceless. They come with handles so that you can carry them with one hand, and aren’t so big that when you fill them they are too heavy (you have to leave enough space to gather it together so that you can carry it with one hand, which you can’t do if it’s too full). You can use them for leaves, hauling cuttings to the compost, carting mulch and soil, or even for spot watering. By the time I fill mine while weeding it’s time for me to get up and stretch and walk to the compost to empty it. I tend to spend too much time on any one garden chore which cause my joints to gel (stiffen), so when trug’s full I get a perfect reminder that it’s time to stop and do something else. I bring mine in the winter and use it to catch the drips when I water my hanging plants. And they are colourful so that you don’t lose them in the garden. They are available at most good gardening stores and nurseries.


Another good receptacle for holding garden waste is the BAG BUDDY. It’s a plastic bag holder that we use in hospitals for linen and garbage and can be rolled around the garden with ease. If you don’t compost (shame on you!) and want to dispose of the clippings, you’d have to pour the contents into a paper bag before putting them out on the curb. I haven’t tried a BAG BUDDY on a paper bag but I would think it might be a little too wide. BAG BUDDIES can be purchased at janitorial supply stores.
                                                                      Bag Buddy           

Collapsible containers are also handy but again you have the problem of re-bagging if you don’t have a compost bin.

Collapsible Container

These can be found in most good gardening stores and nurseries.


Your rake should not be too heavy or too long for your height. My battered old rake is just the right size for me. I force my affected hand over the top of the handle and can rake fairly effectively with two arms. It is another good way to strengthen your weak arm. I sweep this way too. I pry my hand off when I’m done. Or you can carry your rake around that way because your affected hand probably won’t let go on it’s own  ; >

If you have two good arms there is a back saving handle that you can fit to your rake to make raking more comfortable.

Back-Saver Garden Tool Handle is available from Vesey’s Seeds


 Raking is a great exercise for your arm, chest and abdominal muscles but you must have a good upright posture and hold in your tummy. Don’t overdo it.


Felco Pruners are the gold standard of pruners although there are other good kinds out there. The bottom line with pruners, in fact any gardening tool, is you get what you pay for. These pruners may cost a little more but do an excellent job and will last a lifetime with good maintenance.


There are many sizes and types of pruner and each are designed for a different function. Don’t struggle with cutting a too- thick branch with a tool that isn't made for the job. Buy the correct size your hand and get one appropriate for your “new” handedness. I.e. don’t buy right-handed pruners if you are left-handed now. It’s something I have to remind myself about frequently now that I’m a lefty. Felco also makes ergonomic pruners designed for people with arthritic hands.


Felco Ergonomic Pruners-have an offset head to keep your arm and wrist positioned naturally.


A. Ideal for a small hand.

B+C.  Full-Sized left-handed model and its right-handed equivalent.

Felcos are available at most better gardening stores and nurseries.

Ratcheting Pruners

Florian Ratcheting Pruner available at Gardener’s Supply Company is another good brand. Ratcheting pruners are effective for thicker branches.


More and more ergonomic tools are available these days and make gardening much easier for arthritic or weak hands.



These tools are available at Lee Valley and are shaped so that your hand joint is not in an unnatural position when digging. The design allows the strongest arm muscles work while decreasing the strain on your wrist. The handles are wider too for easier gripping.

A good tool belt is always handy. The catch word with gardening tools is availability. It’s important to save energy by having tools nearby . Use brightly coloured ones if you can because they are only too easy to lose in a garden bed. Unfortunately I find many a rusted tool when I do my spring clean ups! Some people paint their tools bright colours or use nail polish to make them more visible.

This tool belt is from The Gardener’s Supply Company but you can find them at most nurseries.


Super Shovel.
I haven’t tried this tool but it looks helpful. The teeth provide added “grab” when you dig and the reinforced handle absorbs shock and reduces fatigue.



I love watering at the end of a long gardening day. It’s my reward for all my hard work. But hand watering is wasteful and there are some annoying things about it.


They are heavy and they kink and crush your plants. This goes double if you’re one-handed. Fortunately you can buy hoses now that are much lighter, prettier, and kink resistant.

Super Slim Hose from The Gardener’s Supply Company


This hose is made of super-light polyethylene and resists kinking.

Super Slim Coil Hose from Gardener’s Supply


This type is better for a patio.

Watering Cans

There are plenty of nice watering cans out there, Haws being the traditional favourite.

Haws Watering Can from Lee Valley


But these cans, though wonderful, tend to be heavy, so a plastic one might be better for you. Also look for one that is well-balanced and won’t tip too easily when you pour. I find that you normally need two hands to water potted plants well: one to hold the can, and the other to move the plant out of the way so you can water at the base. So I like to use cans with long thin spouts that will reach under the foliage.

Long- Reach Watering Cans from Gardener’s Supply


Another new invention is the combined water and fertilizer can, taking out a step when you have to fertilize (which I hate doing.)

Fertilizer Watering Can from Gardener’s Supply


You can also do this onerous fertilizing task by attaching a flo-end fertilizer jar to your hose when watering. You needn’t by a new jar every time you run out of fertilizer, simply refill from a 1kg container of fertilizer powder.

Cleaning Up

I always keep a broom and dustbin in my cart and try to cleanup as I go so I won’t have to do it all at once  at the end of the day. It’s discouraging to have to do your entire cleanup when you’re tired.

The same rules apply for a broom as for a rake. Have them appropriate to your height and as light as possible.

I use a large stand- alone dust pan like janitors use. When I have a bunch of clippings or leaves, I just sweep or rake them in, or dump them in a container. This is much easier on your back then constant bending and lifting, but not as good for your tummy muscles.


I found a larger, more commodious  red one at Home Depot, but the kind of dust pan, similar to the picture above, can be found at most hardware and janitorial stores.


Carrying around big bags of soil is very difficult at the best of times. There is an aid available through Lee Valley that makes carrying easier, although I’ve not tried it and it may be to fiddly to attach with one hand. I think it’s worth a mention though. Has anyone tried it?

Grabbit Bag Handle-available at Lee Valley Tools

There’s also an item to seal bags when you’re done-again I’m not certain how easy they are to use.

Seal-A-Bag also from Lee Valley.

Planting seeds, especially tiny ones can be a challenge. A seeder makes the chore easier. Another way of planting seeds in the garden (and remembering where and what they are), is to plant in a straight row until they’re ready to be re- positioned. Weeds don’t grow in well-ordered rows so your seedlings are easier to locate.

Precision English Seeder- available at Lee Valley.

Planting bulbs can be another headache and one of my least favourite chores. But oh, how I love them when they come up in the spring! Last year I bought a bulb auger that attached to my husband’s powerful drill. I was so excited to think I could plant hundreds of bulbs in no time. But it was a dismal failure. The auger did not make an adequate hole in my beds and only worked well in very light, newly cultivated soil. I went back to the old reliable trowel method. I use an awl for smaller bulbs.

Bulb Bopper from The Gardener’s Supply

The Bulb Bopper looks sturdy but I wonder if I’d have the same problem as I had with the auger?

Stud Grabber from Lee Valley

I thought these looked easy to use because you can use one hand to maneuver them in place. They are spring-steel clips with sharpened tips and a cantilever design that grip tighter when the load gets heavier (up to 25 lbs.), They can be fixed onto any exposed two-by framing.

Brick Clips from Lee Valley

Brick Clips are great for attaching vines to brick walls and are movable, which adhesive supports aren’t. The mortar needs to be recessed a little for them to grab on to.

The Bag Spout From Lee Valley

You may have to get assistance installing this device until you get more adept at removing caps etc with one hand, but a cap like this would have many great uses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spilled bags of stuff that wouldn’t pour easily out of the bag.

If you have a heavy pot to move and someone to help you move it there are tools to lighten the load.

The Pot Lifter from Lee Valley

I have also seen specially made dollys that make the transport of pots easier and it’s not a
bad idea to but pots on wheels or ones that can be left in situ all winter. The fakes are pretty good these days.

April 7/2012
April 9/2012

A Must Have Composter

Doctors Should Prescribe Gardening

April 24/ 2012

All Wound Up: New In Ground Hose Box from Gardena

Available at Home Depot, Rona and other gardening supply stores.


  1. I love all your tips. I already have the green handled ergonomic gardening tools and love them. Can't wait to buy some trubs! I find the kneeling bench to be very useful for getting up and down. I have scoliosis with early fusion and arthritis but love to garden. Also because of carpal tunnel and arthritis in my wrist I use a gardening tool that looks like a hatchet type blade on one end with 3 prongs on the other end to dig up weeds and dig holes. That way it takes the strain off your wrist and you use your whole arm.

    1. Your "hachet-type blade" tool sounds very interesting. Do you have a photo of it or know of a retailer?