NANCY WHELAN: Some handy tips to keep in your garden shed

Having garden tools the right size and length will help you and the soil get on better terms


neel; get up; crouch; reach; bend over; stretch; get up; fetch; pull; push; lift; put down …

The sequence of these moves indicates exercise. The exercise is gardening along with the sudden, aching appearance of all those winter-rested muscles.

I once attended a two-hour workshop on making the growing routine a little easier and more fun for those of us who have been growing for some years now. It presented a good bag of tricks to keep handy in our garden sheds.

One of the first things we were asked to consider is how we garden. Is what worked for us twenty years ago the best routine to follow now?

Changing the gardener is often the biggest challenge. Old habits, unlike weeds, die hard. So … instead of the masses of stoop-labour annuals we burden ourselves with every spring, how about more perennials, more plants that require less dead-heading, low-maintenance plants, and vigorous growers and spreaders that will eventually choke out weeds? (Of the latter, I’m afraid I’ll always be skeptical.)

If you’ve been won over to easier plantings, how about easier gardening itself? “Don’t,” said our advisor, “try to garden all day.” Take breaks often, along with a good stretch, and take them before fatigue absolutely forces you to do so. The seedlings will not go to seed during your rest; the weeds may, but will wait for you. One woman recommended having a Thermos of tea at the dig, thereby forcing herself to take more frequent bathroom breaks.

Plan a treat for yourself after you’ve accomplished a particular chore — one that will make you want to stop for a few minutes. Whatever will delight you, dangle it out there like a carrot, or a handful of fresh strawberries, to lure you away from your labours for a rest.

Changing position and changing tasks every so often also helps to relieve the strain on muscles and bones. Try holding garden tools in different positions to take the stress off aching joints.

Get a grip on your hand cultivator as if it were a dagger… “Out, damned weed!” Any way of holding tools that keeps joints and muscles more in alignment will ease the pain. Tools with fatter handles will ease arthritic hands.

Having garden tools the right size and length will help you and the soil get on better terms — just be sure a tool’s weight does not outweigh its usefulness. Work areas at a comfortable height, somewhere between the shoulders and the hips, are usually the best. Another gardener, who uses her picnic table to do a lot of potting chores, had mounted the table on old lawnmower wheels to get it to the work site more easily. Use that wheelbarrow, too but wheel it at only half full.

Make some plants work for you by getting them up where you can work face to face. Many plants can be trained to grow up trellises (as long as their fruit is not too heavy) so you don’t have to bend over them. Put big plant containers on wheeled bases; don’t try to lift or drag them around.

When it comes to watering tasks, get your hoses under control. Use the lightest ones you can, and have them easily extended or wound up. And, as our instructor succinctly explained, use those little hose guards to “… keepa the hosas outa the hostas.”

Gardening is fun and therapeutic, but it’s also hard work. The message we got was, “Don’t let your addiction to dirt do you dirt!” Happy gardening.