PRAIRIEVILLE — Leroy Cook calls it “senior gardening,” a method of raising his garden beds waist-high to allow him and his wife, Judy, to continue gardening without as much physical wear and tear on their bodies.
Lifelong gardeners, the Cooks realized they needed to scale back their favorite fruitful hobby as the years crept by, especially after two car accidents and a 2011 surgery prevented Judy Cook from easily bending down and getting back up again.
“Things changed for me,” said Judy Cook, a 71-year-old retired beautician.
And with age came the usual aches and pains.
“You get very uncomfortable working on the ground,” said Leroy Cook, 74.
“It’s just an easier way to garden,” he said of the raised beds.
The Cooks’ three-acre property once boasted cattle and chickens raised for beef and eggs, and the backyard behind their 1961 cypress-hewn home featured rows of corn and other crops.
It was so impressive, Leroy Cook said, that agricultural classes would take field trips to see how fruit and vegetables were grown.
The couple, who have been married for 53 years, also grew their own potatoes, strawberries, figs, tomatoes and cucumbers.
The homegrown food helped them save money at the grocery store, especially as their family grew to include four sons.
Their backyard still includes fig trees and turnip and mustard greens growing in the ground, but most of his crops are now in raised boxes.
Leroy Cook had a local metal company build the 10-foot-long sheet-metal boxes, which are 12 inches high and 12 inches wide. Water drains through holes in the bottom of the beds, and Leroy Cook said he reinforced the sides with wood because he enjoys “the rustic look.”
Leroy and Judy Cook are currently growing fall and winter crops, including several different types of lettuce, cabbage, green onions, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
“You bring the dirt up to your level,” Leroy Cook said.
“No squatting, no crawling,” Judy Cook added.
Leroy Cook, who retired in 2005 after a career as a hospital director of environmental services, tends to his garden twice a day.
“It keeps you on your toes,” Cook said. “It keeps you thinking all the time. It gives you something to do.”
Craig Roussel, LSU Agricultural County Agent for Ascension Parish, said the benefits of gardening, especially for seniors, are plentiful.
Besides the obvious physical activity, the planning and preparation of a garden “keeps their minds active,” Roussel said.
Raising the garden beds allows the Cooks to continue gardening without using as much equipment or as much space.
Leroy Cook’s friend and fellow gardener Doug Hillensbeck, 60, said that when Leroy Cook showed him his senior gardening technique, he thought the idea would benefit other gardeners.
“I just thought it was something that was so unique I’d never seen before,” Hillensbeck said.
Leroy Cook doesn’t give out much gardening advice but says he uses“John’s Recipe” fertilizer by the Lady Bug brand because it is so good for box gardens. He also buys his garden soil from feed and seed stores like the Louisiana Nursery.
The couple plans on continuing senior gardening for as long as they can.