The Joy and Pains of Gardening by Kristina Hughes, Clear Creek County Master Gardener
I spend a lot of time in the garden, working. My colleagues are mostly middle-aged women and our bodies start to show wear and tear part way through the season. This season has barely started and I'm already feeling aches and pains, so I'm going to make more of an effort to take care of my body. I thought I'd share some of the techniques I've used in previous years as well as some new ideas to help my body, and hopefully yours too, withstand the pains that come along with the joy of gardening.
A lot of people use foam mats for kneeling on the ground. They are effective but I find them awkward to keep track of as I move around the garden. I prefer knee pads. I put them on once and then I don't have to think about them again, they just follow me. I like the very simple, inexpensive foam knee pads with one simple velcro strap.
After observing professional horticulturists in places like the Denver Botanic Gardens, I started experimenting with tool belts. I've seen lots of people who seem to be happy with a simple belt that will accommodate pruners and maybe one additional tool.
I love my current tool belt with three large pockets which hold pruners, hand rake, hori knife, folding saw, and mini loppers with room for miscellaneous items (string, weeds I want to identify, anything else I want to carry around). I could probably fit a small cat in my tool pouch!
Since I started using my tool bag, I no longer lose my tools in the garden! How many of you can say that?
And this helps my body because I can spend my energy completing garden tasks rather than searching for lost tools. Overall I am using less energy to accomplish the work.
The long hours of gardening have strained my dominant, right hand. When I use my small pruners to cut something bigger or tougher than is recommended, my hand and wrist take the strain. So I try to remember to respect the limits of my tools, but I don't always succeed.
I have found a tiny lopper that will cut things my hand pruners shouldn't. Since I'm using both hands to operate the mini loppers, I'm not straining and twisting. And it fits in my large tool belt.
A colleague recently suggested trying left-handed pruners, to alternate the work load across both sides of my body. I've also learned of ambidextrous pruners, which can be used with either the right or left hand, and ratcheting pruners, which can make big cuts using little effort. I'm going to explore these options this season and see how they feel.
I love working in the garden, helping beautiful spaces to be more beautiful, and I want to continue as long as possible. For me, being honest about the impact on my body is leading to some deliberate thought about healthy practices. I hope that sharing some of what I've learned can help you to minimize the painful parts of gardening and maximize the joyful parts.