• Gardening without Pain

    by  • March 12, 2011 • Garden, How to

    What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.  ~Charles Dudley Warner

    Since our backs don’t have hinges, we need to take a few precautions, before getting into the strenuous jobs in the garden. Whether it’s simply wearing gloves and protective eyewear or strengthening and stretching muscles, a few tips will hopefully help you protect yourself from garden gremlins.

    Keeping fit and warming up
    Yoga is a great way of exercising and strengthening your muscles and preventing injury when gardening. “Just a few simple poses, says Carolyn Masuda, a yoga teacher in Fullerton, CA, “will tone the legs, stomach, back, the whole body.”

    She stoops to conquer
    Cheryl, of Oakhurst is sadder but wiser, after a month-long bout with back strain and is determined not to let it happen again. She believes it was from digging, a common cause of injury in the garden, and now calls her new rose area the ‘Garden of Pain’!

    She now stoops using her legs instead of her back when digging and also makes a conscious effect to dig with her right foot instead of the left, she says, which helps her back. To lift rocks, like many of us do here in the foothills, she uses a dolly, and then rolls it to where she needs the rocks to go.

    *See this entertaining, and informative video, courtesy of The Horse Tail Trails Team, for ways to dig without hurting your back!

    Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.  ~Author Unknown

    Raking, without aching
    The best rakes are wide
    Wear a sturdy pair of gloves when you rake
    Keep your back straight and don’t stoop
    Rake when wind is calm and when the leaves are dry

    One ‘back challenged’ gardener, Marcie, uses a small tarp, about four feet by six feet. On the short end, she ties a rope through the grommets so after raking leaves onto the tarp, she can drag the tarp to the compost pile, instead of bending down.  What a neat idea!

    Another great video from Irene at The Horse Tail Trails Team.


    In poison oak areas, keep your feet
    One sad gardener, who shall remain nameless, was clipping the poison oak whips growing up around her oak trees and sat on the damp ground to make the job easier. She discovered to her dismay that the nastiness of poison oak can soak through clothing and ended up with an awfully uncomfortable rash.

    One tip for preventing contact with poison oak is to apply any oil-based lotion to your arms, wrists and ankles, which prevents any further poison oak oil from reaching the skin. Logical, no?

    On Facebook, I asked the question, “Any gardening injuries?” and Clare from Curbstone Valley Farm says:
    “I gave myself a black eye. I lost my footing on a slope due to our soft loose soils, and went head first down the slope. I landed on the edge of a shovel blade, which gave me a beaut of a black eye, and a small cut near my eyelid. I felt like such a clutz! Gardening on steep slopes can be challenging to say the least!”

    My friend Cheryl did the classic…stepped on hoe and it wacked her in the head.

    Tracy offered this,  “My Mom got bitten on the finger by a spider when she didn’t shake her garden gloves out before putting them on.”

    Amanda says,  “No injury stories but I’ve been spooked a time or two….the last time was when I found a foot sticking out from behind a piece of wood….turned out to be an opossum that fell & got himself stuck between the board & brick wall.

    Baby Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Crotalus oreganus oreganus

    Baby Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus

    I think stress can be injurious, Amanda!  I know there are snakes on my property and I try not to let it worry me, believing that they hear me coming, way before I see them. However, the grandkiddies reported seeing this baby rattlesnake on the retaining wall, (the sprig of rosemary shows how small it was, about the size of a Ritz cracker) outside our front door.

    Snakus rubberus, so I stay aware

    Snakus rubberus, set out on my sidewalks so I stay aware. Works!



    I paled I’m sure as I had just been up and down that bank weeding and planting.

    Last Fall, I saw two, one 4 foot long gopher snake, which startled me, but I left him alone to do his work., and a tiny, but surprising long garter snake on the patio. I put out these rubber snakes to remind me that I’m not alone out here. (My friends hate these!)

    One last tip:

    Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea'

    Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ Beware of its sap!

    When clipping and pruning any plant with white, milky sap (Euphorbia, especially), assume that it is an irritant and wear eye protection, avoiding any contact with your skin.  There is an alarming story behind this tip which involves two visits to a hospital!

    Euphorbia myrsinites Myrtle spurge

    Euphorbia myrsinites, Myrtle spurge has irritating sap to some.

    Again, I won’t say who, but will add that during that particular weekend, our unfortunate guests awoke to an empty house because we’d left in the middle of the night to go to emergency. They had to lock the door behind them when they left.


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.