Gardening can be LOT of work. But it can also be adapted to fit the lifestyles of the chronically ill, and the benefits are enormous. Daily fresh air, sunlight, and movement get me out of the house most days in spring through summer. Plus I get to eat delicious, fresh, nutritious food in summer. My garden has turned out to be a major partner in my care and well-being.
Here are my top 10 hacks for making it easier:
1. Buy an emergency car shovel or camping shovel. I got one at my local home & garden store for about $12. This is much less expensive than fancy garden shovels made for women that cost close to $50. It’s small, lightweight, with a handle on the end. When I tried to used my husband’s regular shovel, it was simply to heavy, even without any dirt in it.
2. Good quality, spring-loaded gardening shears. Good tools make things a lot easier on the body. I had an old pair of garden shears that lost its spring-tension, and using them quickly made my hands and fingers sore. Not good. Avoid this by investing a good pair of shears. I use one made by Fiskars.
3. Use a weeding tool. Save your fingers and hands and let a weeder do most of the work. In the top photo, there are two varieties I have. My favorite one has an ergonomic handle, a serrated edge, and a forked tip, made by Corona® Tools.
4. Use a stool. I use an old plastic lawn chair table. It’s light and easy to carry around, just the right height for sitting next to the garden bed, and saves my hips some aches and pains.
Another option for a simple, inexpensive stool, and about the same height, is a plastic 5-gallon bucket turned upside down.
5. Use a foam knee pad. I use a small blue knee pad with a handle. It's easy to carry around and cushions my knees from the rocky ground and gravel. This photo shows the underside. It provides comfort and protection from pokes and bruises.
6. Keep it simple. Grow only things you really like to eat, and maybe items that aren’t available in the store, like tasty vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes. Lettuces and microgreens are easy to grow and are more nutritious when you grow them yourself and eat right after harvest.
7. Use raised beds. I love my two raised beds that are about 2 feet high (about 0.61 meters), made of concrete blocks. I can sit on the side as I plant seeds or harvest greens. My husband built the beds for me. As an added bonus, slugs are much less of a problem in these beds!
8. Grow plants in containers. Growing plants in containers is a great way to do some gardening by keeping things small and simple. If you have a sunny patio, you can grow some delicious cherry tomatoes and basil, with marigolds to ward of bugs.
For a shadier spot, grow a planter box of lettuce mix, microgreens, or shade tolerant herbs like cilantro or chervil.
9. Grow perennial plants. These you plant once and they continue to grow year after year, supplying you with edible nutrition.
Many herbs are wonderful perennials, which come back every year, such as lavender, yarrow, anise hyssop, plantain, chives, oregano, thyme, sage. Other herbs like chamomile and borage are self-seeding, so you plant them once, and even if you pull them out at the end of the season, new ones will sprout up next year.
Vegetable examples include asparagus, rhubarb. Fruits include strawberries (very easy to grow from plant starts), a blueberry bushes, a raspberry on a trellis.
10. Stick with native, edible and medicinal plants. Make use of gifts from Mother Earth’s bounty: plant edible and medicinal plants that grow naturally in your area, and therefore are low-maintenance. Examples might include plantain, dandelion, and red clover--these grow all over and are highly nutritious foods and medicines.
Where I live, red huckleberry, salal, and Oregon grape grow wild and each provide delicious berries. Other wild medicinal herbs include St. John’s Wort, mullein, roses, yellow dock, and many more. This photo shows perennials St. John's Wort, lavender, and borage growing in a herb bed.
Bonus Tip: Start small. If you grow to love gardening like I have, you can expand one potted plant or raised bed at a time. A couple of great books on the subject include Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail (she includes lots of ideas on gardening in containers and small spaces), and Herbal Remedies in Pots.
Parting Thoughts: Balance Activity with Rest
Taking breaks and resting is a requirement for me, so I do gardening in short 10-20 minute intervals. That is enough time to pull a few weeds, water a few plants, or harvest a few veggies. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in a week or two by gardening 15 minutes at a time.
I like to lie down in the grass and rest in the warm sun for 15 minutes or so, gazing at the sky. My back gets sore easily, so this is a really good way to avoid overdoing it, and still enjoy myself in the garden. After a rest period, my body aches usually subside and I might garden for another 15 minutes.
Moving gently, breathing fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on my body, and preparing fresh, nutritious food are all things my garden provides. Gardening is simply good medicine.
Hi, my name is Kalyn. I love plants and all things nature, so I find myself turning to nature to help me cope with the multiple chronic illnesses. May you find inspiration here.