Julienne Dallara is a familiar face at the Abilities Expo as she works with the shows nationwide. But she's also a secret gardener.

Few folks know about her green thumb, too!  Enjoy her tips and tricks for gardening below.

In my able-bodied days, it was relatively easy to be a gardener – although I didn’t realize it at the time.  I would flail at California adobe with a heavy pick axe until all my frustrations were dispelled.  Then I would create; planting lanky Hollyhocks, prolific tomatoes and enough basil to make homemade pesto that would saturate family and friends with its garlicky tang.

Like any self-respecting Italian, Julienne knows the recipe for a perfect summer meal begins with fresh basil and tomatoes from the garden.

Then in 1996, I woke up paralyzed from a condition called Transverse Myelitis.  My garden was still there – down a flight of stairs in the back yard.  I bumped down the brick stairs on my rear.  At that point in my rehab I hadn’t yet been persuaded that what you can’t feel could still get hurt.  I did an army crawl along the row of plants with my feet trailing behind me, cultivating the soil and scraping the skin off my feet.  Oh well, I couldn’t feel it, so it didn’t matter.

Fast forward to 2018.  I have learned a lot, and that means beating up my body a lot less.

I recently moved to a beautiful home with ocean breezes and a large garden.  I have a cool-looking WHILL power wheelchair that goes up slopes and over grass, bark, packed dirt and twigs.  I sit up high enough to reach the lower branches of my citrus trees.  And I have accumulated enough tools with long handles so I can extend my reach, making gardening more accessible to me.

Hand tools are the key to happy gardening!  Check out the 50/50 (pictured below); one side is a hoe, one side a cultivator.

Here, in no particular order, are my keys to successful gardening:

Demographics: Do you live in a GARDENING ZONE? If you look at this site, it will tell you which zone you are in: https://garden.org/nga/zipzone/2012/  That guide is a shortcut to which plants will grow easily in your neighborhood without you having to baby them.


Hot and dry vs. cool and damp: I have found that the toughest place for plants to thrive is shady and dry.  I have also found that here in southern California, most plants do well in a half-sun, half-shade section of the garden.


The Greatful Dead. Deadheading is the key!  The plant keeps sending its strong energy to the blooms, even after the bloom is dead.   Take those dead blooms off so that the plant has more energy to make new blooms!


Fertile soil is your friend. In my able-bodied days I used to use organic fertilizer, compost, chicken manure, etc.  But that is when I could haul an 80-pound pack on my able-bodied back (of course I was also in my 20s and 30s, which also might be a factor).


Disease & Critters. Everything in the world has its own natural enemy.  My garden has mortal enemies in the form of snails, aphids, grasshoppers, rats and mold.  Previously, I used “natural remedies”to keep them at bay, including saucers of beer to inebriate and drown snails, birds for grasshoppers, ladybugs for aphids, traps for rats and …well there’s no homemade cure for mold that I know of.

Snails in the garden, oh my! Try Julienne’s tips for keeping them at bay.

If you are willing to negotiate with the rats, though, did you know that every time you see an empty snail shell it means that a rat had dinner?  They slurp the snails out of their shells like a Parisian dinner guest.


Disease & Critters, 2018 edition. As my gardening skills have improved, I learned to love snail pellets from Corey.  They work in a tidy, efficient manner.  For aphids and all other bugs, look for a “systemic fertilizer.”  It is far from organic, but if you, like me, can’t lift heavy bags of fertilizer, it is helpful. (I love to be as natural as possible, but I also have to work with what is accessible for me.) Plus, this one bottle has both pesticide and nutrition  in a convenient shaker bottle.  You sprinkle it to feed your plants once every 3 months.

And mold?  Head for your local Garden Center.  They have sprays of all kinds.  Of course, if you insist on watering your plants with overhead sprinkling and/or watering at the end of the day, the plants won’t be able to dry off before they are hit with the cooler night temperatures.


Finally, enjoy! The garden is where I remember to breathe.  You know the way a 6-year-old looks at the ants in the grass?  I do that in my garden.  Everything is fascinating.   Delightful, even when I find a snail I get to squish or a caterpillar that I get to send home to its maker.

After 22 years in a wheelchair, I have found that happiness can sometimes be hard to find and perspective is the key.

When LA was on fire from riots in the streets, I planted flowers.  I needed the perspective of life, when the world seemed carpeted in pain, anger and death.  There have been too many such moments since.  However, there is an element of control in your garden.  When everything seems out of your control, your garden is a place that looks (somewhat) the way you planned it.

So get out and enjoy life in a garden today! You’ll have a brighter day because of it.

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Be sure to check out Julienne Dallara’s Accessible Hotel Room Hacks too – click here.

If you’d like to meet Julienne in person, join us at the Chicago Abilities Expo on June 29-July 1, 2018. Even better than deep dish pizza, the Chicago Abilities Expo brings you life-changing opportunities. It could be the products and tech. It could be the chance to play quad rugby or dance with the Rollettes. It could be the workshops or connections you make with others in the disability community. It’s free so join us and register today.