Garden Forever
Gardening, a way of life

by Mary Fran McQuade

Gardening is one of life's purest pleasures. It's a delight to all the senses -- sight, scent, touch, taste and hearing. And it's good for you. Besides being good exercise, gardening soothes the soul. And that has its own benefits.

Nurturing plants, seeing things grow, brings beauty into the world. It gives gardeners a sense of accomplishment and something to look forward to, every day. Tending a garden shifts your viewpoint outwards and puts you in touch with the rhythms of the earth. It's a tonic in a worrisome, time-pressured world.

Stay in the garden as long as you can. Read on to find ways to Garden Forever.

Smart steps to lighten the load

Gardening doesn't have to mean chores. Get great results with less effort.

If managing a full-grown compost pile is more than you can handle, cut things down to size. Grind veggie scraps in a blender and scratch them in around your plants. (Be sure to cover with a couple of inches of soil.) You can collect bits and pieces in a bag in the freezer until you have a full load.

Water is heavy, about eight pounds to the gallon, so plan ahead to satisfy thirsty plants. Put soaker hoses down in spring for easy, season-long watering. Mix high-tech polymer crystals into potting soil or deep below the surface around moisture-loving garden plants. The crystals soak up water and release it slowly, minimizing watering chores. And always mulch bare soil to reduce water loss.

Don't try to be a garden acrobatic -- invest in tools that extend your reach. Lightweight, medium-length loppers are great for pruning and deadheading hard-to-reach plants. Watering wands gently irrigate containers and the back of borders. Add a long-handled reaching tool to your garden shed and you'll scoop up twigs and bits of litter without a twinge. Investigate no-dig methods for making a new bed or border. You'll need sheets of cardboard, newspaper, lots of leaves and other organic materials, all layered and left to blend together into rich loam. It takes time -- start in the fall for the next growing season -- but it saves backbreaking labour.

Every body's no-ache guide to gardening

You don't have to be a weightlifter to have a beautiful, healthy garden. But you do have to recognize your body's capabilities and work with them. Avoid post-garden pain with this eight-point plan.

1. Prioritize your jobs. Put your energy into the most important ones; leave the rest for another day.

2. Loosen stiff joints and muscles with gentle warm-up exercises. For suggestions, check with the Canadian Arthritis Society or 1-800-321-1433

3. Backs are a weak spot. Never bend from the waist to lift things. Bend from the hips or, better still, squat down and let your legs do the lifting.

4. If you're reaching to one side or behind you, turn your entire body, don't twist just one part of it.

5. Keep your elbows tucked in close to your sides when you're raking or moving heavy loads. That brings your upper arm muscles into action, as well as those in your hands and forearms.

6. If you're having trouble with hand tools, choose a longer handled tool and grip it with two hands, held close to your body. You'll gain more power and better control that way.

7. When wrists and fingers are sore, avoid digging with typical jab-and-twist-up motions. Find tools that let you "chop" a hole by using your arm muscles to pull earth towards you. It's less painful on sensitive hands.

8. Don't do any one activity for too long at a time. Shift positions, change hands -- and take frequent rest breaks.

Ready and able
New tools are now available designed especially for gardeners with special needs. Some, like Sure Grip and Fist Grip hand tools, help gardeners use their arm and shoulder strength, rather than weaker hands, wrists and fingers.

Others feature longer or adjustable-length handles that are comfortable to use from a seated position. Kneeler pads are kind to aching joints and kneeler benches come complete with "arms" to help stiff gardeners stand upright again.

A new look for the toolshed
The equipment you use can make gardening a joy -- or a burden -- for you. When you're working with gardening tools, keep these tips in mind.
  • Look for lightweights. Smaller-scale spades and shovels, lightweight handles and lighter hoses are all things to look for if you're not as strong as you used to be. Two short hoses, rather than one long one, may be easier for you to manage.
  • Plastic can be your friend. Plastic handles, on hand tools and digging forks and spades, are durable and light to use. You can get plastic watering cans in classic designs that weigh lots less than their metal twins. And plastic pots are kinder to aching arms and fingers than heavy clay.
  • Get a good, solid grip. Clutching a slippery or uncomfortable handle will tire you out before your time. Look for handles that fit your hand and aren't too slick or too rough. With hand tools, larger handles are usually easier on your hands than skinny ones. Use sports tape or tubes of foam pipe insulation to adapt the handle to your grip.
  • Keep tools in top condition. Rust and caked dirt add weight, so keep blades clean. Sharp shovels and pruners mean you need less muscle power to do the job. Tighten screws and bolts on tool heads and handles so you get more done with less effort (nothing's more frustrating than a wobbly leaf rake).

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