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Dad Lives in a Jungle


"My father’s yard looks like a jungle.  It is filled with buckthorn and noxious weeds.  The neighbors have filed complaints with his village.  Dad is in a rehabilitation facility right now for a month.  Do you think it would be okay if I just cleaned it up?" 


Yes, yes, yes.  Normally, when elderly parents stop caring for their yard, it is almost always because they can no longer physically keep up with the work.  Over time they are able to do less and less physically to maintain the exterior of their home.  However, in your father's case, being in a rehab center makes him entirely incapable of maintaining his own yard.

So, let's talk about how to approach this task.  First, make a visit to the facility that your father is staying at.  (You should be visiting anyway.)  Let Dad know that you are going to do some yard clean-up for him.  Avoid asking if he wants you to.  He may say no, but we both know the yard really needs attention.  I recommend that you tell Dad you are going to clean up the yard this coming weekend.  Tell him that you will be pulling weeds, cutting grass, and trimming hedges.

Now for the dicey part. 

Try to find out which trees, shrubs, and plants are important to him.  Before you head into his yard and start hacking away, make sure you are not trimming trees or shrubs in ways that may be upsetting to him.   We all have ideas about how trees and shrubs should look, and they do not all conform to the “Fine Gardening” approach.

I recommend that you start with the lawn and weeding.  Once you have removed the weeds and cut the grass, approach Dad with the trimming you feel needs to be done.  Take a few pictures with your cell, and show your father what you plan to trim.  It would be wonderful if Dad could sit out in the yard while you trim.  He will feel like a part of the cleanup that way.  Make your father feel like he is directing it, as if the clean-up was his idea. I understand that you may not want the input because it is usually much easier to do it on your own without a supervisor staring at you.  Another option is to bring the children or spouse along and ask them to engage Dad in an unrelated activity while you work.

In the end, most parents are very pleased to have someone take care of the yard, even if they were hesitant or against it in the first place. It should lift your dad’s spirits and make home feel good again.​