Planting and Growing a Happy and Healthy Gardener

This past year, a dear friend of mine passed away at the age of 90. He was a WWII vet, a successful business man, a college professor, artist, lover of great food and great conversation, and an absolutely amazing gardener. After having a delicious meal with him and his family one evening, he invited me to take a tour of his garden. It was undoubtedly the most organized yet most beautiful garden I had ever seen.

The garden was not terribly large, but it sure was well planned and laid out. Healthy and thriving vegetable plants were everywhere. His amazing herbs were planted to compliment many of his vegetable plants. Beautiful flowers were strategically placed for their color and fragrance. Several varieties of berries outlined the garden, and evergreen bushes were here and there to add natural greenery during the winter months. Just to one side of his garden was a small shed. Inside and around the shed were perfectly sharpened and cleaned garden tools, properly stored fertilizers and treatments for pesky insects. Sun hats, garden gloves and garden clogs were stored there also.

We spent quite a while looking and talking about the garden and plants when I finally admitted to him how shocked I was that he was such a Master at gardening. I just could not help myself and I had to ask him, “What was the most important lesson you have learned through your years of gardening”?  He laughed and said, “Be equally mindful of your well-being as the gardener as you are of your garden plants – both need to be nurtured and protected during the garden season.”

I am relatively certain I nodded in agreement with him, but honestly his answer was over my head. I actually thought he would tell me some special seed or composting secret that he had discovered and tweaked through the years. This new secretive information would have definitely helped me produce extraordinary victory gardens similar to his own.

Since I did not completely understand his words of wisdom, I spent the next eight to ten years gardening to my own beat, with some successes, but many failures. Most of the successes truly came from the garden produce, and many of the gardening failures were due in large part to setbacks sustained as the gardener. I have suffered from some nasty cuts and bruises when I was too eager to work in the dirt and too stubborn to wear proper gardening gloves and shoes. My skin has been severely burned from the sun when I did not protect it with sunscreen, a sun hat, or proper protective clothing.

Mosquitos, chiggers and ticks have feasted on me unnecessarily because I was just going to be outside for a little bit and did not think I would need insect repellant. I have injured my back several times by lifting heavy bags of compost, mulch, or gravel improperly. These injuries were later aggravated when I tried using tools not properly sharpened for ease of use, or using a tool because it was within reach but was not necessarily the proper tool for the task.

Several years ago, I began having headaches, actually migraines, every afternoon after working all day in the garden. A visit to my doctor identified the source of my migraines – dehydration. I sadly learned that the coffee I had continued to drink in the early morning hours and the iced tea I drank in the afternoon hours of my gardening routine contributed greatly to my dehydration. My little sip of water here and there throughout the day was not going to be sufficient for my health and well-being.

So I now leave my home to work in my gardens with plenty of water and an extra enzyme supplemented drink in my garden bag. I am protected from possible insect bites with both spray and lotion insect repellent. My skin is protected from the sun with sunscreen, a sun hat and UV protective clothing. Gloves are my constant companion, and I have garden clogs or boots for my feet – no more flip flops!

I no longer feel ashamed to say, “Yes, I do need assistance loading the compost, mulch or gravel into my car” when I purchase any of these items. I also use my hand truck or wagon to move heavy objects when I am working alone. I now come to the garden prepared to care for my fruit trees and bushes, flowers and vegetables as much as I have tried to care for myself. Twenty years have now passed since that evening in the garden with my friend, and I now know his simple answer was not only a very wise one, but it was a seed of gardening knowledge that I now try to plant and continue to nurture for myself each and every year.

Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2016