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Duane Pancoast: A Gardener for All Seasons

By Melody Burri

‘The Geriatric Gardener’ author shares tips for green-thumbed seniors

If there’s one thing octogenarian Duane Pancoast loves, it’s gardening.

Thanks to his open mind and gift for creative problem-solving, it’s likely he’ll be able to pursue some form of his lifelong passion — and help other seniors do the same — for years to come.

“I just like to garden,” said Pancoast. “I like watching things grow. I’ve got a beautiful yard that we designed and planted, and I want to maintain it. It’s relaxing.”

Armed with a background in landscape architecture and radio and television, decades of experience with Ted Collins Tree & Landscape, Birchcrest Tree and Landscape, interaction with arborists and landscapers nationwide and more than 60 years in the public relations field, the 83-year-old Victor resident has now turned his attention to writing.

In 2017, he launched his semi-monthly blog, “The Geriatric Gardener,”  which many say is well on its way to becoming a go-to resource for senior gardeners.

“It’s just something I want to do, just for me,” said Pancoast. “I had to learn the hard way how to work around my limitations and am hoping to save others from having to learn the hard way, too.”

“I had to figure out for myself to go up to Home Depot and buy knee pads,” he added. “When I had to sit and kneel in order to get the job done, I had to find solutions. So I used a five-gallon bucket filled with tools, flipped it over so I could sit on it, and then threw the weeds in the bucket when I was finished.”

As fodder for his blog, Pancoast mixes his own experience of aging with his landscape education, decades of experience doing marketing communications for landscaping clients, and what he’s learned through his more than 30-year membership in Garden Communicators International.

His easy, readable narrative includes specific tips for senior gardeners experiencing physical limitations, stamina shortages and sensitivity to extreme temperatures. He offers specific ways they can adapt, rethink and manage tasks, make key decisions and find alternatives when outdoor gardening is no longer an option.

“I encourage senior gardeners to embrace imperfection,” said Pancoast. “If you don’t get it done today, it’s going to be there tomorrow. It’s not going anywhere.”

In his long and rich life, Pancoast has overcome more than his share of physical obstacles: childhood polio, arthritis, knee and back problems as an adult. But it was a stroke in February 2020 that significantly limited his mobility and caused him to refocus his passion on growing plants indoors.

“When I couldn’t get up from my five-gallon bucket, that told me I’d better hire out my outdoor work and concentrate on my indoor garden,” he said. “There are a lot of landscapers, but not really many professional gardeners. Luckily, my lawn service does some weeding, light pruning and cleanup.”

And though others are now doing the heavy lifting, Pancoast continues to derive hours of joy watching his garden change with the seasons.

It’s a prolific and well thought-out collection: Korean lilacs, Japanese red maple surrounded by boxwood, arborvitae, river birch, a white fringe tree, weeping mulberry, potentilla, various perennials and a clone ginkgo tree relocated from his former home.

When Pancoast is not soaking up the beauty of his gardens or tending his indoor menagerie of houseplants and air plants, he stays busy with speaking engagements for garden clubs, at garden shows and centers, and with book signings throughout Upstate and Western New York.

In 2020, Pancoast also published his first book, “The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors,” which is a compilation of blog posts arranged by topic. Books are available to order at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener.

“I write the blog to help prepare other aging gardeners as physical limitations begin crimping their style,” said Pancoast. “Senior gardeners shouldn’t toil in their garden, they should tend it.”

Duane’s Key to Healthy Gardening:

• Have a shady place where you can take frequent breaks

  Keep a cooler of water nearby to moderate your body temperature and stay hydrated. Loss of balance can often be brought on by dehydration.

  Use a five-gallon bucket to carry tools to your project, flip the bucket over to use as a stool while working, then flip it upright and fill with weeds to clean up.

  Start your gardening day with your most strenuous tasks, and then taper off.

  Pace yourself: work for a half-hour and then take a break whether you feel like you need it or not. 

  When you go back to work, pick a different task and rotate throughout the day.

  Do some stretching before and after you start and end your work session.

  Dress comfortably and protect yourself against the ravages of the sun with sunscreen, sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat. 

• Wear knee pads or use a kneeler or seat to minimize impact to your knees.

• Be sure you have your cell phone or medical alert device with you. 

• Go to the hardware or garden store to try out various ergonomic tools before you buy them.

• Opt for tools with lighter fiberglass handles rather than those with heavy wooden handles.

• Look for pruning shears, loppers and hedge clippers that have geared or ratcheted pivot points. They require much less hand and forearm strength to operate. 

• Plan ahead now for the future by installing raised beds, ramps, slight inclines (five degrees or less), wide paths (at least four feet for one-way traffic, seven feet for two-way).

• Replace high maintenance, intrusive perennials with shrubs or dwarf conifers.

• Reduced lawn size; replace all
or parts of labor- and resource-intensive lawns with low maintenance ground cover.

Pancoast’s “The Geriatric Gardener” blog can be found at