Gardening, nature and wildlife have filled my heart always, spending most of my time growing up in my garden I call home today. Never did I think my love for and ability to garden would ever change. Although my love has never wavered my ability has declined enormously and this has left me with frustration and anger. It struck me the other day that I had not written about gardening with chronic illness and disability.
In the beginning of my healing journey I certainly was extremely limited in what I was of ability to do in the garden. In fact, early on I could barely make it out into the garden, ever. I was experiencing high levels of pain, unbelievable whole body inflammation and enormous fatigue. Projects being left unfinished for another time in life, uncertain of when.
There was so much work to do to accomplish our design for our beautiful yard to bring it back to its glory after my mom and dad were unable to garden as they once had. A design which changed enormously once I began living with disability. Although I have developed strategies for gardening with disability I still get frustrated and angered when tasks I could do with ease in my old body are next to impossible now. This happened just yesterday in fact. Here is how gardening changes living with chronic illnesses, pain and disability.
Like with all areas in daily life mobility aids are key. I have a few that make time in the garden manageable when in gentle movement or in rest. It should be note there are two things that make my gardening experience possible. Given that I have a large city lot to garden I require help, that is where my caregiver comes in. He also happens be my husband which helps greatly. Most people living with disability could never afford a gardener. Brandon does all tasks requiring heavy lifting or muscle work. All jobs I once did with joy I no longer am of ability to complete.
Resting takes up most of my gardening time. I have a consistent rule of pacing which I follow. With each minute of movement comes double or triple the time in rest, always in the shade with hydration. I use my ten sitting stations for this. However, I also have my most used gardening mobility aid, my gardening stool. Almost as valuable as my shower seat, this is a must have item. I always have this with me when I am gardening along the perimeter, often gardening while sitting on it. However, this is when I see colour combinations in the garden and unique perspectives through the garden foliage lending inspiration to paintings.
When I decided gardening was simply too important to my well being much on the same way as painting, I had to make modifications. The first task was to get myself a gardening trolley that could be moved easily on wheels and holds my tools to garden with. This means I have everything I need right at my side throughout the garden, more energy used for gardening and less energy walking the large lot to get things.
Given that I have a large city, lot the walk to the garage has become far when living with disability. This is why Brandon had my childhood dollhouse fixed up and I have organized hooks for garden tools, yard waste bags, gardening gloves, boots, hats and the list goes on. All gardening tools and supplies a few steps from any spot in the back garden. A truly awesome use for this original structure. It is know called the Garden Studio and is located beside the vegetable garden area of the yard.
We already did a good amount of container gardening as it is best when you live with multiple bull terriers. Containers are now good because I can sit at them and require less bending over, I even have one at hip height this year which I think will be fab. My muscle and joint movement has improved over the past five years as has my muscle strength. However, having been able to deadlift and bench press using an olympic barbell nearly double my weight a few years ago, I have very minimal ability. Gardening is the most exercise I am able to do with some consistency over time. All other movement programs are occasional without consistency at this point of my healing.
Almost as handy as garden seat is my large sun umbrella. On hot days of super many people with ME have temperature control issues within their body. I have an internal and external thermostat of the same temperature meaning summer isn’t compatible for my body. In fact, it never has been often getting heatstroke while teaching in the classroom during June or September. The umbrella allows for a bit of protection from sun and shade on high heat days. It is important for me to get out into the garden and this helps for a quick trip outside on a hot day. It can also be used while perimeter gardening and in rest breaks. I keep it by the back door with sunglasses and footwear to slip on with ease before stepping outdoors. A person with ME can use up all their energy just getting prepped to go outside.
Now, speaking of mobility aids. We have been redesigning our lot for my rollator and scooter when I have low days. We have a low slope ramp from the garage linked to the front walkway and another downward into the backyard. This season we are finishing this pathway all the way into the Garden Studio. This summer I will have access all throughout our garden no matter what ability I have on a given day. The benefits of the garden will be at my reach all year long as the paths can be snow blown. A great advantage to someone living housebound and providing year round healing benefits. The garden is spectacular during all seasons as is wildlife. Winter can feel very insulated staying inside due to cold and snow and this will solve this dilemma.
Patience is part of gardening as is healing. I patiently await the full return of the garden. Much like my healing it is slow, over time there is improvement. While this transpires I will enjoy the garden as Fionny and Dolores do, one moment at a time. This summer mostly all of the steps to regenerating the garden will have commenced. This is exciting as the garden grows I heal in tandem, we are a perfect pairing. I think in a decade of time five years from now the garden and myself will have quite a bond, not to mention a unique story to tell. A peaceful happy life full of colourful garden flowers and paintings.