I myself would like to meet Death in the flower garden–falling facedown onto a cushion of Dianthus gratianopolitanus, if it’s not to much to ask. ~ Elisabeth Sheldon, Time and the Gardener : Writings on a Lifelong Passion
But last and best, I’d like to thank my grandmother Elizabeth McIver, long dead, who when told she must give up her gardening to lengthen her life, picked up her trowel and went to weed. ~ Joe Eck, Elements of Garden Design
I want to garden until the day I die, don’t you? Early in 1997 I pulled a packet of gardening postcard ads out of my mailbox. On the front cover was a photo of an old woman, the essence of “granny.” (Sorry I can’t show it to you; I was unable to obtain permission.) She had a mound of white curls piled atop her head, tied in place with a red bandana. Wearing a flowered smock, she faces the camera, hand pruners in one knuckle-swollen hand, and a big bunch of bachelor’s buttons in the other–and she’s smiling. In a flash I knew what I wanted my retirement to be like: gardening, gardening, and more gardening!
Later that year, a series of gallbladder attacks and subsequent surgery brought home to me that the kind of later life I wanted for myself wasn’t just going to happen. What I did with my body now was going to have a profound effect on what I could do later.
I wish I could say that ever since then I’ve steadily improved my physical condition. Two pregnancies, a month-long hospitalization, another surgery, and several back spasms later, my road to fitness has been paved with a lot of good intentions and unexpected detours. And like Susan, what I know I should do and what I actually do aren’t always the same thing. But it is important to know yourself, and I’ve learned by now that I need to change my habits slowly.
As Kasmira recently discovered, strength and flexibility are what’s most needed in gardening, but if you’re not alive to garden it doesn’t do you much good. Since my family background puts me at risk for several diseases that aerobic fitness and weight loss are the prescribed remedies for, I started with that. Stretching to restore flexibility came next. I’ve learned from Overcome Neck and Back Pain that stretching one’s hips and lower back is just as important as strengthening one’s abdominal and back muscles for preventing back problems. When I practice the stretches I have learned from this book consistently, I avoid the muscle spasms that can prevent me from gardening for weeks.
Sore back muscles are still a possibility, because even a flexible muscle can be overtaxed. So this winter I added weight-training to my regimen. I know from previous periods of physical fitness that increased strength significantly increases my gardening pleasure. It makes gardening more fun, because almost everything you do is easier, from hauling hoses to pulling weeds to pushing a wheelbarrow.
I’ve been a confirmed bookworm since I learned to read, and avoided exercise through my teen years. The threat of an untimely death failed to motivate me to exercise–there was always time to start later. It wasn’t until my mailbox epiphany that I had a sufficient motivation to change my ways. Sure, it’s boring, but it makes gardening more fun. Yes, it takes time out of my day, but I’m hoping it adds quality to my life. When I find my motivation flagging, I pull out that photo of the happily gardening old woman to remind myself that I’m gardening–and living–for the long haul.