Extreme Gardening

Less pain, more gain

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I spent an afternoon sprucing up the yard at my father’s house on Lummi Island. It was a rainy day, so I put on my heavy-duty work boots and a hoodie to protect me from the inclement weather and proceeded to cram as much work as I could into an approximately three-hour period.

After raking up the tree debris from the most recent storm, pruning shrubs, yanking a plethora of weeds and ferrying the fallout in many sodden wheelbarrows full of downed limbs and assorted greenery, I was proud of the effect. And, while the garden looked much better, it wasn’t long before I realized I was so stiff and sore I could barely stand up—let alone walk.

I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve forgotten that the muscles required for gardening need to be rebuilt every spring, and that it’s not enough to have the tools and clothes required to get the job done. Unfortunately, I only realize the folly of my ways when the pain sets in and I’m shuffling around the house like an octogenarian with severe arthritis. 

In the two-plus weeks since my seasonal reckoning, I’ve put in many more gardening hours at my own yard in Bellingham, and—like many others who get excited about the long growing season in the Pacific Northwest—plan to do so until after the first frost sets in next fall. Luckily, I’ve gotten smarter about how I go about it. You can, too.

Before heading outside, I’ve made it a point to spend at least 10 minutes stretching—including runners’ stretches to loosen my legs, and various poses designed to ease back strain and knee pain (Google “stretches for gardeners” and you’ll find a wealth of ideas and images).

I’ve also used my internet research to implement other common-sense gardening tips designed to keep those who get their jollies by working in the dirt from feeling crippled by the end of the day.

For example, I’ve been pacing myself and trying to do the hard chores first, before I’m tuckered out. Last weekend, I gave myself the task of weeding the walk to the front door and the stretch of greenery in the front yard. I deposited the wheelbarrows full of weeds before they got too heavy, and paused a number of times to drink water and re-stretch. When the job was complete, I took a lunch break and then re-evaluated what else needed to be done. I still had some energy—and wasn’t sore—so I continued weeding in the backyard until I reached the point where my muscles were starting to feel the strain. 

Other tips I’ve been putting into effect include keeping my back as straight as possible while weeding, bending from the knees instead of the waist when lifting, taking care not to lift and twist in the same movement, changing hands from time to time while working with tools and stopping more often to rest and listen to what my body’s trying to tell me. 

While I realize gardening isn’t an extreme sport, those of us who toil to grow flowers and edible items for our dinner tables take it seriously, and are rewarded by seasonal swaths of color and attractive landscapes. When we can do it without feeling like we’ve just been to boot camp, it’s even better.

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