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Body as Garden

Gardening requires paying attention to one's body, as well as one's plants. Does this digging tire a certain muscle? Is this posture the best use of my energy for the task? Do I need gloves for this job?

Garden work can be strenuous; even the experienced gardener is tempted to underestimate its effects. Like an athlete, if you study how to use your body to its best advantage, you will enjoy more rewards.

Consider equipment design — for example the box-style garden cart, that rides low on two big wheels on its long sides. Like a seesaw, the cart balances on the axle so that weight on one side of the axle lifts the other side. If you load the cart well, you lift nothing when you move the cart — unlike a wheelbarrow, where you must lift the load. [Well... in the photo I use my little finger to lift the handle.]

Garden tools specifically designed to be ergonomic minimize strain for one part of the body or another. But is it the part you need to favor? I love my D-handled shovel: its leverage makes it easier to maneuver than a staff-style, and its shorter length is more comfortable. But I just learned it puts more stress on arm tendons. I'm going to get a good strong staff shovel, shorten it, and pay attention to how my wrists and back (my weak areas) react.

Sometimes I'm tempted to do "just a little bit" in the garden without bothering to change into protective clothing. But I've learned that a shovel can give me a nasty scrape when it slips on a hidden underground obstacle. Caring for my body also means sun protection, and leather gloves for working with rocks or around roses. I even use a mosquito-netting hood over my hat.

Garden work is involving. It's a relief to get away from my habitual mental chatter, to focus on the plants, the design, the soil.... This is healthy, I come back to my desk thinking more clearly. But any pleasure can be used as an escape: I do it by "forgetting" to set appropriate limits, or pushing them: telling myself I can get just a little bit more done before I stop for lunch....

However, tension hampers performance — and perception, too. I don't pay good attention to my plants if I don't pay good attention to my body. My body is an integral part of my garden.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 6 December 2002
Photo by M. Elaine Bomford
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