Growing A Garden From a Wheelchair

Gardening is good therapy.

That’s what Cherry Overway says.

“When you see weeds, you’ve got a choice,” said Overway, 73. “You can watch it get worse or you can do something.”

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Overway’s garden is tucked away at the end of Myrtle Avenue in Holland. You stroll through it to get to “The Cherry Tree House,” where she has lived 48 years, which faces East End Drive.

The long, narrow garden features 647 varieties of flowers, almost all of them perennials. The garden comes alive with color with the blooming of the crocuses in March and continues through October with the mums. 

A seven-month garden is a fine achievement in West Michigan. What’s more astounding is that Overway tends it all from her wheelchair, a rolling stool or by scooting along while sitting on the end of a wagon.

“It’s a lot of work in the spring, but it’s nice to get out here after sitting in the house all winter,” said Overway, who contracted polio at 18 months of age, before the vaccine was invented. “During the summer, I’m outside 12 to 15 hours a day. Sometimes I’m working but mostly I’m just enjoying it.”

Overway likes to share her garden with friends and neighbors. Members of the Holland Horticultural Club encouraged her to throw a garden party in 2001, and Overway has continued the tradition every year since on the first Sunday of June, when her irises are in their glory.

Close to 100 people stop by some years – and not just for Cherry’s Memphis-style barbecue.

Overway enjoys telling guests who ask the history of her garden, which was an open space when her daughters Kathy and Kristi were little.

But a neighbor, who has since moved, decided to erect a fence. Her neighbor on the other side later did the same, framing in her irregular-shaped lot.

So, Overway did what gardeners do when they’re slightly miffed. She planted marigolds on her property line.

She liked the color. She liked finding new and exotic plants. Truthfully, she says she couldn’t resist buying plants she didn’t have. And friends and family gave her plants for special occasions.

Until four years ago, Overway was able to get around with a walker, but even then it usually worked better to garden from a seated position.

She designed her garden with raised beds that she doesn’t have to bend over to tend. The beds are narrow so she doesn’t have to reach far, but she also has gardening tools with good, fat grips that easier to use.

Paving and making paths wide enough to maneuver in a chair is essential, Overway said.  

Her original path, paved with concrete blocks, leads under an arbor where there are two steps down.  When Overway moved to a wheelchair, she needed to have a second path constructed to bypass the stairs. Most visitors don’t realize that the second path, this one created with wood planks, is an accessibility feature. It just all blends in, she said.

Watering a garden with a hose can be a nuisance if you’re pulling it from a wheelchair, Overway said. She has soaker hoses installed beneath the topsoil to keep her garden soil moist.

Even if she didn’t use a wheelchair, Overway says she would have “zero interest in mowing grass” because it has to be done weekly. Her front lawn, facing East End Drive, is covered in wood chips except for an octagon-shaped patch of grass.

“Somebody said I had to have some grass,” Overway said with a huff. “There it is. My neighbor mows it when he cuts his grass.”

Gardeners with disabilities are wise to plan before they plant, Overway said. If she hadn’t decided on narrow, raised beds, she couldn’t have continued adding to the garden when she went from a walker to a chair.

She finds she can do most of the work herself, but says she’s also fortunate to have neighbor’s she can “call anytime about anything.”

They’re always willing to help. They enjoy Cherry’s garden, too.