My name is Niki Preston, also known as The Two Fingered Gardener. I was born with Phocomelia so I have two fingers on my right hand and a tiny little one on my left arm. Both my arms are short and do not bend at all and just for good measure I also have dodgy hip and knee joints. I am married to the lovely James and we have three grown up children and an assistance dog called Bailey.
After moving to a house with a much bigger garden a few years ago, it soon became apparent that one of us would need to learn how to garden and as James really did not have any enthusiasm for the task so it fell to me. Now it has become my greatest passion. I have even won an award and met my gardening hero, Alan Titchmarsh.
Sharing my love of gardening has led me down a completely new path, so to speak and I began writing about how I garden even though my disability makes it quite difficult. I have learned to become very creative and now I feel it is time to share this with others. Hopefully inspire people to give it a go or to start again if they have given up through adversity. Featuring in Amateur Gardening magazine, The Guardian, BBCouch! Garden News and now Audacity magazine I hope I am beginning to spread the word. Product testing accessible garden tools has also begun to take off so I hope you might find some useful handy tips and ideas.
Gardening to me anyway, is very therapeutic; it lifts my spirits whenever I have bad days. I get totally lost in myself and it is probably the only time I can forget about constant pain, where I am free to be just me. After all a garden is not judgmental, it just rewards all your love and care with beauty, colour and yummy veggies.
If you are new to gardening and just want to give it a go I hope some of my advice will point you in the right direction. Firstly, don’t worry about lack of space. Any space can be made into a garden. You can use pots, window sills anywhere even your dining room table, which I do a lot. Raised bed gardening is by far the best, no back breaking bending and they can be placed at the correct height for you, so wheelchair access is perfect too.
I grow all my flowers, veg and herbs in raised beds, all mixed in together. The effect is quite something and there is always something to look at and tend too. Give a little bit of consideration to your individual capabilities and what you feel you can manage. Things like long term plant care, dead heading, pruning, that kind of thing. Everything is possible with a bit of determination which we all have in spades (excuse the pun) and the right tools for the job.
In my quest to find tools for the disabled gardener I have been sent some amazing products, not all of which were designed with disability in mind but I have found they are all useable in one way or another. One set of tools that I have found really handy are children’s sized trowel and forks. Darlac make a superb set with bamboo handles, making them very lightweight. They are also very good quality being made in exactly the same way as the full sized product, unlike other children’s garden tools which are more like toys than tools. These tools feel smooth and are so easy to carry about because they are so strong they can be used all over the place, my husband keeps running off with them, he thinks they are great, looks like he might need his own pair.
Another great asset that I stumbled across is a super comfy and hard wearing pair of gardening dungarees, Sent to me by a Swedish company called gardengirl.co.uk. These dungarees are covered in handy pockets, even a great removable one for your mobile that can be put anywhere on the dungarees, making access to it simple and quick if the need arises. I tend to fall over a fair bit and being able to have my phone with me whilst I garden has made me feel much safer. The other pockets are a good size and can be filled up with all your tools for the task ahead, small pruning scissors, your Darlac hand tools, garden wire, no need to keep going up and down the garden to get what you need, it is all with you already. They are so comfy to wear too, lots of room for moving, bending, twisting etc and wheelchair users could benefit to, with all the pockets and comfort is a real asset as well, a big consideration when using a wheelchair.
My advice to the beginner is doing a little research into the kind of plants that you like and make sure you can manage them. Perennials are perfect to start with; they come back every year and need less constant care and attention, mostly a bit of deadheading every now and then. Self seeding flowers such a Cosmos, Aquilegia and Verbena Bonariensis, all favourites of mine give a great splash of yearly colour and because they self seed the cost of having a colourful garden is kept to a minimum. If they are grown in pots and raised beds they are much easier to keep under control too. Bulbs are a useful garden staple, just push them under the soil and wait for them to do their thing. What could be simpler or more satisfying than time spent lost in your own little world, no worries, some piece and quiet and fresh air to blow those cobwebs away?
If you need any more advice or just want to know more about me and the other products I have tested, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be found on Twitter @nikijrp and Facebook where I have my own page, The Two Fingered Gardener.