We launch right in, don’t we?  Even before the stores have had a chance to discretely remove the de-icing supplies and replace them with citronella buckets, we have moved mountains out there. Some of us, quite literally. The chores in the spring garden are too numerous to list and we wouldn’t have time to refer to a list even if we made one..

A bit of heavy weight lifting during a community garden workday. No I never picked it up, it was rolling all the way.

A bit of heavy weight lifting during a community garden workday. No I never picked it up, I rolled it all the way.

We need all the help we can get, but in the great war of You vs. The Garden, the chief weapon in your arsenal can be a problematic one.  One moment it’s flexible – the next, stiff as an iron bar.  It’s never quite the same two days in a row and isn’t aging quite as well as you thought it would.  Sadly there isn’t an extended warranty available after the first thirty-five years, but then there wouldn’t be – this tool can’t be bought (except in Nevada and Amsterdam).

Well at least I wasn't doing this. That hurts just looking at it (with apologies to my good friend Wayne).

Well at least I wasn’t doing this.  (With apologies to my good friend Wayne for outing his back-abusing postures).

It’s your body, and barring major advances in cloning, you’ve only got one.

Yet as gardeners we abuse it.  And we continue to abuse it until it stands up to its bully and puts a back out…or freezes a shoulder…or hands you osteoarthritis on a platter with a side of adrenal failure.  And then, as my English father would say, you’re stuffed.

So, we must take care of it.  Let me say that again as I’m sure you were trying to ignore me. We. Must. Take. Care. Of. It.

What does it matter that you spent three ten hour days over a long weekend sorting out the vegetable garden if you can’t harvest the vegetables due to a herniated disk?

Instead, let’s work smart and be kind to ourselves.  If you’re not quite sure what that means any more, below are a few simple ideas your body would love to see you implement.

And if you’re young and supple, please don’t assume this list is for ‘old people.’ Be smarter than your twenty-something friends – taking care of yourself now means you’ll live this glorious gardening life longer.

  • Build the habit of grabbing a large flask of water when you go outside. Dehydration happens fast but it can take the body hours to recover.
  • Lift (and dig!) with your legs and core muscles; not your back, your left hip, your neck etc… and not “just for a quick second.” A second is all it takes to land you in an armchair for a week with a hot pad and a tube of Tiger Balm.
  • If you’re working in an overgrown area, assume poison ivy is present and liberally slather your forearms with Tecnu before weeding. Wash it off afterwards and reapply for a second wash.  Mind altering itch aside, nothing takes the sexy out of cute summer dresses like pustulous oozing skin. And guys, it’s not particularly attractive against a crisp polo shirt either.
  • Use some sort of sunblock. Whether it’s a low brimmed hat, expensive SPF or a tube of zinc oxide, it’s important to give your skin a break.  Vitamin D is good for you, but standing naked in the office of your dermatologist while he scans every inch of your skin is something to be avoided at all costs.
  • Give yourself a certain amount of time out there – not just “until the light fades.” When you have a timeline, you feel more in charge mentally and physically. If you’re weeding a bed, draw a line where today’s weeding will end.  If you’re building a wall, decide how many stones you will shift today. Give yourself boundaries so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Or indeed, this. Yes, that's a chainsaw (with further apologies to my good friend Ellis).

Or indeed, this. Yes, that’s a chainsaw (With further apologies to my good friend Ellis, the Ailanthus Chainsaw Murderer).


Yes, you can just ‘push through’ – we all can.  But don’t expect any awards for beating yourself up. Just the opposite in fact. The differences between those who faced their gardening life as some sort of boot camp and those who treated their bodies as kindly as they treated their plants becomes greater as we age – whether 36 or 76.

Spend less time staring at the medicine cabinet.  Be kind.

Reprinted with the kind permission of The Frederick News Post