Gardening for Good Health 

Shirley Lindsey
Adams County Master Gardener

Planning ahead is a great way to enjoy your garden to the fullest in 2002, and now is the time to start. One way to get the most out of gardening is to make sure you are physically fit. Many people begin the gardening year with backaches, headaches, and general aches and pains.

Getting in shape to garden is like preparing for any other sport. Be sure to consult your doctor before you do any kind of physical workout, and even with your doctor's go ahead, you need to be sure you are doing exercises correctly. Brisk walking is one of the best exercises you can do. If you are bothered by severe cold (or hot) weather, get a treadmill or join the "Y" or other fitness club. Another good exercise, especially for women, is working with weights to increase upper body strength. But, again, be sure to have your doctor's okay and a trainer's help to get you get started, so you don't injure muscles.

In addition to physical fitness, you can use the cold winter months to work on your mental well being. Do you plan to start your own seeds this spring? Don't wait too late to order the seeds. You can also order plants early, and they will be sent at the appropriate planting time. Another suggestion is to plan where you will put these plants. This will save frustration and uncertainty when they arrive.

Do your tools fit? I recently tried one of those 'lady' shovels, and it was amazing how readily I was able to dig into my too dry ground. Another boost for your well being is being able to locate the tool you want when you want it. A friend of mine has all the handles painted a bright color. I keep small tools in a 5-gallon bucket with a liner and pockets on the outside. This helps, too.

Attitude is a major ingredient for enjoying your garden. How do you feel when you are working in the garden? A friend once said to me, "I would rather be here than anywhere else in the world." Can you enjoy your garden only when it is at its peak of perfection? Unless you have a very small garden, lots of time, and/or a gardener, it is likely that there will always be work pending. Just because it is not perfect does not mean it is not beautiful.

Keep your frustration level under control. Do you ever try a new plant, one that looked so glorious in the nursery catalog, only to find that it did poorly in your garden? Or have you planted something in the wrong place? On my west facing open sloped area, shade plants do not thrive-often do not survive. But one of the wonderful things about gardening is that we learn as we go. A year when you have not made any mistakes could be a year when you do not grow as a gardener.

And when spring comes, do you start out by digging, planting, and mulching for many hours at a time? Not a good idea! Take it easy, and do your work in smaller blocks of time. Remember the proper lifting techniques: Bend your knees, keep the weight close to your body, etc. Lift with your strong leg muscles, not with weak back muscles. People with back problems can testify that it pays to do it right

Be wary of the sun especially as the summer days grow hotter. Wear a hat that has a brim all around, so your neck and ears are protected as well as your face. Recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Use sunscreen to protect yourself from the damaging rays of the sun. Wear sunglasses to cut out glare. I try to wear a long sleeved shirt when I garden. This protects my arms from the sun as well as from poison ivy, which can sneak into your garden when you aren't looking. A good pair of garden gloves is a worthwhile investment. This will keep your hands from sharp thorns and your nails healthy.

Keep the water bottle handy! Much fluid is lost from our bodies from heat and hard work. This must be replenished on a regular basis. In the hottest part of the year, you may want to do your gardening early in the morning or later in the evening when it is likely to be a little cooler.

Above all, be sure to take time to sit back and enjoy the results of your gardening labors. Even if a little more trimming needs to be done, or a few more weeds pulled, relax regularly and savor the color, the fragrance, the joy of being in your garden. Many people find the splash of a fountain or the trickle of a water garden calming and relaxing. Gardening is the most popular hobby in the United States. Keeping in good health will make it a very satisfying hobby indeed.

Read other articles by Shirley Lindsey