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Gardening Disabled

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 5 October 2001 (except for some editing on this version).

A reader, Ruth, wrote to me at the paper. She said "I'm going to keep trying to garden, but my eighty-two-year-old body is not convinced I should do it for much longer."

Ruth, I’ve a confession to make: my fifty-six-year-old body is having trouble doing it. Recently mysterious muscle spasms and arthritis-like pain and stiffness have largely disabled me. I haven’t said anything about it here, because I’d rather write about the plants and the beauty I love. But you made me reconsider.

Probably you, like I, have been looking for everything that might make the work easier: low things to sit on, long-handled tools, or raised beds so I won’t need to bend over; work-saving techniques like permanent mulch; easy-to-grow plants. These tactics help a lot.

I also need to learn better discipline. All too often I go out to do "just a little" gardening and then, lulled by how much better I feel outdoors, I get rebellious and let myself do just a little more.... Finally last week I managed to do half an hour’s weeding without making myself worse — by paying meticulous attention to each muscle I was using, each stress put on me by the movements I made. Still, when the weeds are lush and I can’t weed them, and the garden troopers aren’t available, I have reached the point where I too consider what I'm going to do.

A new friend gave me a thought. When I gave her a tour of the garden and apologized for its condition, she said she enjoyed it as it is: "It's like a wild garden." I looked again at the virus-stricken brown iris leaves I'd like to have trimmed back to the green — and the tall silver stems of ripening seedpods of Rose Campion, with no flowers left on them — that I'd like to have pulled up because there’ll be plenty more from the seeds they've already dropped — and the similarly straggly, thin flower stems of the pale-yellow Scabiosa, that’s still flowering strong, but the blooms don't show off well there. Can I look at this bed as I would at a field of wild plants, appreciate the rhythms of their shapes and their muted, end-of-season colors... without the blinkers of my habitual ideas about what I'm willing to see as beauty?

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark