the evolving gardener

One of my gardening heroes (and friends), Gene Bush had sent me a note to check in and say hello. He said in part:

I was hoping that I could convince you to write the story of your surgery and how it affected your gardening.

Well I hadn’t thought about it, but it has most definitely affected my gardening. I will note it is not necessarily bad, however it makes the game different now.

My travails with my right knee started in the winter. At the bitter end of February and first couple of days in March, one day, something went pop. It was so loud a sound, literally a “pop”.

That pop was my meniscus. The day it happened I was in the house alone and the pop sent me to the floor, where I stayed for a while, in considerable pain not able to get up and afraid to move.

Eventually I pulled myself up by using the low, heavy bureau I crumpled in front of and hobbled to the bed. This was how I spent the next couple of months – hobbling in pain within my home . It was my right leg, so that also meant no driving….and no walking….and worst of all, no gardening.

I pretty much spent weeks and weeks with my leg elevated and supported in bed as I went through the process of our healthcare system. Getting a surgeon, let alone getting approved for a surgeon by health insurance companies is NOT a speedy process any longer.

As I the days stretched into weeks, I realized that I would not be doing my late winter/early spring clean-up in my garden myself. That meant I also wasn’t going to be putting down all of the mulch I put down every spring.

I am a hands on gardener. I am used to doing for myself. So now I had to find some qualified gardening help.

For a while I had toyed around with using someone I had used in the past, but decided against that person. They were not inexpensive and when I had used them last, quite a few actual plants were removed with weeds. And the plants weren’t, say little clumps of mint or something, one of the plants was my white currant bush and I have been looking for about three years for another one.

I received a referral from a friend for a local landscaper. He spread most of the mulch and God bless him, dug out a 40 year old patch of forsythia so I could have another flower bed. Forsythia is miserable to remove as I removed a lot last summer. Forsythia is why I invested in a spearheaded spade, truthfully.

I paid the landscaper for the work I had initially contracted with him about, and scheduled some more, including driveway edging. The problem is he never returned. He kept making and breaking appointments so eventually I gave up. I will note that I have since done my own driveway edging, I just had to do it standing with more movement of my arms and shoulders then my knees.

By this point we are into May and I had finally had my surgery. Yes, it took that long. Between dealing with insurance company nonsense and the busy schedules of competent surgeons and all the pre-procedure minutia, it was May before I had my surgery.

If you are a gardener you know that a surgery like knee surgery can put you tremendously behind the eight ball. I did my best to find other garden help, but to no avail.

The irony is, I would never hire anyone to do something I was not willing to do myself or generally speaking usually did do myself. But I had people show up, look at my garden which is the rather good shape truthfully, tell me what they might charge… and then they just disappeared.

I can’t tell you how frustrating this has been. So it has made me rethink how I garden. Here I am, offering to pay someone to assist me, and basically they don’t want to do the work.

I am also frustrated by those I interviewed who wanted to tell me how my garden should be. That wasn’t why I was trying to contract with them for garden help. I have my vision, I just need a little help now and again executing it. It’s hardly impossible, it just requires thought and effort. But the difference is, I have an actual garden and in today’s society a lot of people do not. They live in developments where associations within that development make the gardening decisions and often contract out for all of the residents. Everything is the samey- same from house to house.

I will admit I found recovering from breast cancer surgery and other surgeries I have had over the past few years easier than knee surgery. A lot of that had to do with the length of time I was basically forced to sit still and rest prior to my surgery. My muscles went kerplunk along with endurance.

When I first started physical therapy I never thought I was going to be able to do it. I was as weak as a kitten quite literally, except a kitten could move much faster than I could.

But I was lucky to get an amazing therapist through my surgeon. His background before physical therapy was in sports training so he has been and an enormous help, and I discovered his physical therapy practice has a lot of gardeners in it! (Yes I am still doing physical therapy. I actually only started driving by myself a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still not driving long distances. )

I am back in the garden but it’s different than it used to be. One thing that is different is I broke down and bought myself a good garden seat on wheels with a little rack on the back of it. That way I can sit and weed and not bend over or have to kneel. It takes longer, but it saves the strain on my knee. The seat pivots, and there is a little basket on the back for my hand tools. At the bottom of this post is a picture that is close to what mine looks like as I can find.

I bought my wheelie garden seat from a member of my gardening group actually. People don’t realize the good gardening tools do not have to be brand spanking new to be good. As a matter of fact (and it’s somewhat a topic for another post), I search out gently used gardening tools at times.

From pruners that can be sharpened and are built in a more sturdy fashion in the vintage variety, to having back ups for the things I occasionally kill like gardening spades large and small, I am not adverse to garage sale hunting of garden tools.

But back to post surgical gardening. I have learned I have to accept that at least for the near term, there are things I can’t do unless of course I want to end up with an entire knee replacement next time. It’s hard for me to ask for help, but like it or not I know I have to at times now.

Post surgical gardening also means I can’t just do giant guerrilla sessions of gardening any longer. I have to pace myself. I tend now to go out in spurts of an hour to 90 minutes tops. I have to ice my knee every time I have gardened. I also have discovered I can’t garden multiple days in a row, or at least not yet.

Thanks to my physical therapist and tips he has given me I am also learning better posture for gardening for lack of a better description.

Having to adjust my mindset also means my garden has some adjustment. It is not as perfectly weeded as it once was. And I have to be more accepting of that, which I am the first one to admit is incredibly hard. Some people who have come to look at my garden this summer I think are surprised by that in particular, because I’m a little obsessive about my gardening beds. But I have to pace myself or I will literally become a cripple. And if I become a cripple I won’t enjoy my garden or anyone else’s garden.

I have learned this summer that knee injuries in particular are a very common complaint for rabid gardeners. When I had to let the hosta society know I would not be coming to their summer function because my knee wasn’t up to it yet post surgery, one of the event organizers laughed and said there was a lot of that going around this summer with gardeners that they know.

Is it frustrating to have to reset the pace of my gardening? Yes it is and incredibly so. The garden I have now established is a layered garden, so the work is pretty much on going in it.

But now post knee surgery, I have to slow the pace. It has also made me start to seek out some plants that may have lower maintenance – it’s a garden I will let you know ha ha ha when I’ve discovered that for sure.

However, all that being said, my garden is my truly happy place and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I still love it and love to take care of it… only now I have to be a grown-up and do it at a slower pace.

Thanks for stopping by!

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One thought on “the evolving gardener

  1. A well-written post. May your recovery continue. And, isn’t Gene Bush such a dear, dear person. He’s a fellow Hoosier, and we are very proud of his lifetime of giving to gardeners.

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