Cultivating Joy as a Paraplegic Gardener

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Stroll with us through a beautiful California garden as N-ABLE Guide Julienne Dallara shares her personal passion as a skilled adaptive gardener. Julienne turns to her backyard garden for a positive boost that sure to is brighten her mood — and perhaps yours too!

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.

In 1996, I woke up paralyzed. 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.

Julienne Dallara naturally able guide Fast forward to today. I have learned a lot and beat 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 lawn, 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.

Hand tools are the key to happy gardening! I often use a 50/50 myself; one side is a hoe, one side a cultivator.

Nothing gets between Julienne and her beloved 50/50.
Nothing gets between Julienne and her beloved 50/50.
Venture into the Garden with Julienne

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

1. Demographics – do you live in a GARDENING ZONE? If you look at this site, it will tell you which zone you are in. That is a shortcut to which plants will grow easily in your neighborhood without you having to baby them.

2. 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, at least in southern California, most plans to well in a ½ sun 1/2 shade section of the garden.

3. 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 that the plant has more energy to make more blooms! Which leads me to:

4. Fertilize. 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 just could be a factor).

5. Disease & Critters. Everything in the world has its own natural enemy. In my garden, it is snails, aphids, grasshoppers, rats and mold. Once again, in the past I used “natural remedies”in the form of saucers of beer to inebriate and drown snails, birds for grasshoppers, ladybugs for aphids, traps for rats and …well I had no cure for mold.

If you are willing to negotiate with the rats, 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.

Julienne prunes the dead heads out of her garden, on the regular.
Julienne prunes the dead heads out of her garden, on the regular.

6. Disease & Critters, 2020 Version. I’ve begun using snail pellets from Corey. Works in a tidy, efficient manner. Aphids and all other bugs – look for “systemic fertilizer”. It is far from organic, but if you, like me, can’t lift heavy bags of fertilizer it is helpful.

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. 7. Admire Your Garden! This 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. Refreshing. Delightful, even when I find a snail I get to squish or a caterpillar that I get to snip in two.

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

When Los Angeles 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) like the way you planned it. 

Get out in the garden today, and you may be surprised at how fast your world view changes…for the better!

Julienne Dallara N-ABLE Guide
About Julienne Dallara If you’re looking for a ray of sunshine, a smiling face and a ‘no excuses’ positive attitude, find Julienne Dallara at the Abilities Expo. Julienne has Transverse Myelitis, but it doesn’t slow her down. Julienne not only sells booth space at the Expo; she also serves as the disaster consultant for any exhibitor, the unofficial office of information for attendees, and the undisputed queen of hospitality throughout each event.

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