Monday, March 26, 2012

Gardening is Therapy

"The tomatoes that I grow seem to taste better!"

Why do I garden? For some unknown reason, it just simply feels good to do so. Maybe it’s the Vitamin D from the sun, the fresh air, or the connection that I feel from knowing that my departed father and grandmother loved to garden as well? Maybe it is from the satisfaction and the pride that I feel from just doing it? The flowers are each beautiful, unique, and the textures and shapes of the leaves are absolutely amazing. My garden isn’t perfect by any means, and there is always something that needs to be done. I’m not perfect either. I’ve simply learned to appreciate life, and I simply strive to do my best. If I don’t like something, I will make a change, whether it is within me, within my physical environment, or within my garden.

Gardening doesn’t come without challenges for anyone, and this is that time of year that it can be a little overwhelming. When I head out, I usually have a mission or some kind of plan. This helps, but I don’t always find myself doing what I had originally set out to do. (I prefer to be a little more spontaneous in life.) Eventually, I know that I will make my way around the whole yard, and accomplish what needs to be done. I’m slower than most people, and I can’t get to everything easily. This inability to move around easily is probably the most frustrating part of gardening for me. Other than the frustration that I feel when I have finally made it to where I want to be, and suddenly realize that I don’t have the right tool with me. Err, this happens, and I move on. My garden forces me to be patient with myself.

Understanding my own physical limitations helps with these challenges but, being more innovative helps even more. Accepting what is difficult, and constantly determining new ways to do something is survival. As I get older, I know that my physical limitations are increasing. The plants that I now choose seem to require less maintenance. I leave more space around each plant. I buy long reach tools to avoid leaning over as much as possible. I buy smaller bags of dirt. I have a plant dolly to move my containers. Fortunately, as our population gets older, more and more garden tool manufacturers are realizing this need and are creating more and more products. I’m amazed at the number of raised beds, and plant containers on wheels that I see now. More products are being created to reduce the need of leaning over.

Knowing when to ask for help is also vital. (Not an easy task for this independent woman.) If I was alone or if I had a partner that wasn’t into gardening, I would probably have to have a smaller garden, but I would still do it. I would have to factor in the cost of additional maintenance. Gardening is a big part of my life, but there are other things that I enjoy doing as well. Accepting what I can and cannot do makes gardening manageable.

Personally, I enjoy the exercise that I get by lifting bags of dirt and heavy containers of plants, I enjoy socializing with other gardeners, I love shopping for plants, and I truly have fun sweating in my own garden. Pruning something seems to be a terrific way to relieve stress. I’ve always loved to get my hands dirty. I own more garden tools than shoes. The tomatoes that I grow seem to taste better, and I can never have too many cut flowers in my house. Some days I simply just enjoy sitting in my garden. It is quite meditative. Other times I enjoy photographing the amazing flowers. I’m intrigued by the unique detail in every flower. My garden is a form of physical exercise as well as a state of mental well being. My garden is my therapy, both physical and mental. It keeps me active. I love it, and that is why I do it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hot Momma! The Importance of Hydration

SWEAT is an important function of our bodies. Gardeners aren't exempt from the risks involved with overheating. As a person with a spinal cord injury, my body does not handle the heat very well. I perspire very little below my chest. Because of this, I do not "naturally" cool down the way I should. As people age, they too are more at risk for the dangers involved with heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Often, I get busy with my morning routine, and get out much later than I should. This is generally okay early in the season, but as Summer heats up, it puts me at a much greater risk of experiencing heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. I am writing this blog now, because we are already experiencing 80+ degrees, and it seems like that it is only going to get hotter.

My advice to any gardener would be to get out early, or go out later to avoid the heat of the day. Protect your skin with a no pore clogging sunscreen, sunglasses for the eyes, lightly cover up, and keep cold water very close by. I have a dorm size refrigerator in my garage full of water and Gatorade. I also keep a fan in there. (My cat enjoys this too.) I pay attention to the location of the sun as well, and try to work in the shady areas whenever possible. My favorite setting on my garden hose is the mist setting. As it gets hotter, I take more breaks. I have containers on my back porch that I can take care of in my pjs early in the morning, and I can generally take care of the front containers in the late afternoon. In July and August, I may have to make a quick dash out front to "save" my tomatoes. When it is 100 degrees out, my containers may need watering twice a day. The reality of gardening in the South!

Our plants are important, but we have to take extra precautions so that we do not overheat. Drip irrigation would be ideal in every garden, but generally there is always something that requires a little extra care. In our case, we have to put ourselves before our plants! My best advice is to avoid working in the garden during the hottest part of the day. Plant drought resistant plants if you live in the hot South!

It may sound simple, but we all push our limits. Hydrate, or take a plunge if possible. Stay cool!

Drought-Tolerant Perennials

Here are some of our (mine too!)favorite perennials that tolerate dry conditions. Drought-tolerance varies from one region to the other, so be sure to get advice from good gardeners in your area. For more ideas, check with your local Cooperative Extension office.,default,pg.html

Achillea millefolium (yarrow)
Anthemis tinctoria (golden marguerite)
Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
Aurinia saxatilis (basket-of-gold)
Baptisia (false indigo)
Calamintha nepeta (catmint)
Coreopsis verticillata (threadleaf coreopsis)
Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower)
Echinops ritro (globe thistle)
Euphorbia polychroma (cushion spurge)
Gypsophila paniculata (baby's-breath)
Helianthus angustifolius (sunflower)
Hemerocallis (daylilies)
Lavandula angustifolia (lavender)
Liatris spicata (gayfeather)
Limonium latifolium (sea lavender)
Malva sylvestris (mallow, zebra malva)
Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage)
Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower)
Santolina chamaecyparissus (lavender cotton)
Sedum (stonecrop)
Stachys byzantina (lamb's-ears)
Solidago (goldenrod)
Thymus (thyme)

I've included basic information from WebMD:

Understanding Heat-Related Illness -- Symptoms
What Are the Symptoms of Heat-Related Illnesses?

Heat cramp symptoms include:
Severe, sometimes disabling, cramps that typically begin suddenly in the hands, calves, or feet.
Hard, tense muscles.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
Excessive thirst
Muscle aches and cramps
Confusion or anxiety
Drenching sweats, often accompanied by cold, clammy skin.
Slowed or weakened heartbeat.
Heat exhaustion requires immediate attention but is not usually life-threatening.

Heat stroke symptoms include:
Nausea and vomiting.
Dizziness or vertigo.
Hot, flushed, dry skin.
Rapid heart rate.
Decreased sweating.
Shortness of breath.
Decreased urination.
Blood in urine or stool.
Increased body temperature (104 to 106 degrees).
Confusion, delirium, or loss of consciousness.

Heat stroke can occur suddenly, without any symptoms of heat exhaustion. If a person is experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, OBTAIN MEDICAL CARE IMMEDIATELY. Any delay could be fatal. You should seek emergency medical care for anyone who has been in the heat and who has the following symptoms:

Confusion, anxiety or loss of consciousness.
Very rapid or dramatically slowed heartbeat.
Rapid rise in body temperature that reaches 104 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
Either drenching sweats accompanied by cold, clammy skin (which may indicate heat exhaustion); or a marked decrease in sweating accompanied by hot, flushed, dry skin (which may indicate heat stroke).

Any other heat-related symptom that is not alleviated by moving to a shady or air-conditioned area and administering fluids and salts.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

"I've fallen, and I can get up."

"I've fallen, and I can get up." 

Gardening from my wheelchair has presented many unique challenges. Someone once asked me if I ever fell "out of that thing", obviously referring to my wheelchair? My answer was "yes, of course I do." Without hesitation, I told them that if I didn't fall occasionally, then I wouldn't be living my life the way I wanted to. They seemed a little puzzled at first, and then I could tell they understood what I was implying. I think so, anyway. As I get older, I try to avoid falling. After living the last 28 years as an incomplete quadriplegic, I know that my bones are weaker. The possibility and likelihood of breaking something increases for everyone as they age.

I never intentionally fall, but it happens. There is always a weed just out of reach, or a sinkhole that catches me off guard. My biggest fear, other than breaking something, is the fear of landing on fire ants. (I live in the South.) The advantage of falling on mulch is that it cushions the fall. I try to land on my side and forearm. Never my wrist. I try to keep my phone very close by, and I keep a step stool in the garage. I'm usually more embarrassed than anything else, and I always hope that no one saw me. 

Last Spring I fell between an Agave and a Rosebush, and on a downhill slope. Ouch! Getting back out was even worse. The Agave broke, and the rose dug in. Then it proceeded to rain on me! I managed to drag myself across the lawn to some steps where I was able to get back into my chair. Once I was safely back in my chair, I started laughing. I was a bloody mess, but nothing serious. Times like this remind me that I have way too many plants with thorns (prickers), and maybe I should think about getting the brakes fixed on my wheelchair. Maybe one of these days....

I have a plan on how to handle a fall every time I head out into my garden. It's not an issue of if I should fall, but rather when I fall. I know that I can get up. Maybe that is why I reach a little further, and act more careless than I should. As it becomes more difficult for me to get back into my chair, I will probably tend to my containers more and spend less time leaning over to reach the ground. I will also take the time to go to the garage to get one of my many long reach tools. Hopefully this season, I'll fall a little less often.