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An Update from Tegwen (September 2023)

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An Update from Tegwen (September 2023)

September 5, 2023

Spring into gardening!

Spring into gardening

‘I’ll just pull out that one” is a phrase that is usually muttered at the beginning of an unplanned weeding frenzy that grips many home gardeners. They spy one weed, then another, and another and before they know it they’re repeatedly pulling, twisting, turning, yanking, heaving, dragging, ripping, tossing, flinging, and hauling plant material all over the place. Despite these repetitive movements causing them pain, these gardeners often plow through to either get the job done or leave a mess because they are too exhausted to clean up. The next day they may suffer from a sore back, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs and consequently the feeling of frustration because they cannot get back into the garden again until their bodies recover.

The above scenario illustrates the way that gardening can disguise the fact we’re doing exercise. This is great for those of us who don’t like going to the gym. A welcome unintended consequence of doing something we love. It is also a good example of incorporating what has been recently termed vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA). VILPA is the brief bouts of exercise that are embedded into everyday life activities rather than a specially designated fitness regime. One study found that doing just 4.4 minutes of VILPA a day had significant beneficial associations with the reduction of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. However, while gardening provides a noteworthy opportunity to boost our VILPA minutes, we should also be more mindful of our bodies while getting stuck in.

The PBS television series Gardenfit is a fun resource that shows us how we can garden and remain pain-free by paying attention to our bodies. The hosts of the show are Madeline Hooper, a retired PR executive who found herself in pain after gardening every day for 20 years, and Jeff Hughes the personal trainer she consulted about her condition. For 13 episodes they travel across America and visit a variety of gardens. Each episode focuses initially on a tour of a garden and then Jeff addresses the physical issues the people behind the scenes have when working in these gardens. As the blurb on the website suggests their show is a “fusion of destination, gardening and self-care”.

I've put a link to the episodes below for those of you who wish to watch them for yourself.

However, below is a brief outline of four essential techniques that Jeff and Madeline cover in the series as well as on their website here

These techniques can take a bit of practice to make them a daily habit but they’re worth it in the long run. 

  1. Form is key. Jeff gives great tips on how to create and maintain good bodily form for any activities, not just gardening. A great deal of this technique focuses on your head placement when you’re thinking about good posture. Jeff notes that slouching places your head out over your chest and the opposite, tilting your head back puts strain on your neck. These postures are both incorrect in creating good form. Instead, Jeff colourfully suggests that getting into the habit of pushing your head back like you’ve had a pie squashed in your face is the key to good form. Have a go trying this one while you read on.
  2. The Armchair - This technique is used to do any activities that require you to reach for anything on the ground or get down on the ground. This technique has three stages. The first they call home. This requires you to maintain a stance with your legs apart and your knees bent, like you’re sitting in an armchair. The second technique shows you how to safely reach for the ground from the armchair position, and the third shows you how to get up and down off the ground and back to the armchair position.
  3. The Seesaw - The seesaw technique is about how to maintain balance in your body to avoid a sore neck, back, and shoulders. Jeff asks us to first pay attention to our bodies when we are standing up straight. He wants us to begin with just standing “nice and comfortable. Not use your head, not use your shoulders, not use your neck. I want you to take your shoulder blades and slide them down into your back pockets and when you do that your chest emerges.” From here, your chest and your shoulder blades work like a seesaw. For instance, if you reach out with your arms up high to prune something then focus on balancing the weight by dropping your shoulder blades further into your ‘back pockets’ to take the stress away from your shoulders, neck, and upper back.
  4. The County Fair- refers to the idea that gardening activities should be planned and enjoyed like rides at a fair. So instead of weeding a whole bed, set 20 min aside and/or stop when your muscles begin to feel tired and then switch to an activity that uses different muscles like deadheading, potting up, or watering. Come back to pull some more weeds later in the day. It’s much better to do a little often rather than a whole lot at once.

Madeline has a motto, she likes to think about being ‘fresh’ in everything she does in life. She suggests by practicing the above habits she has been able to keep ‘fresh’ and pain-free.

Why not try out Jeff and Madeline’s tips with some Spring gardening!

Spring gardening tasks

The Bureau of Meteorology has informed us that they predict that we’re in for a hot dry Summer so Spring is a good time to start tasks that will help your plants survive these conditions.

Plant now - it’s better to try and establish new plants through the spring than waiting until the summer months to put them in.

Fertilize - use granular or soluble.

Water - we haven’t had much rain this winter so it’s best to start watering your plants. Try not to let your soil dry out too much or it will become hydrophobic. What happens here is that the soil particles become coated in a waxy compound which repels water. If your soil is repellent, you can think that you’ve given your plants a lot to drink but the water is in fact just running off the soil surface and not reaching the roots where the plants need it most.

If your soil is already repellent, you can add organic matter, water crystals or use a wetting agent. Mulch also helps keep the soil from drying out. If you have pot plants that have become hydrophobic, submerge them in a sink or bucket of water for about 15 minutes.

Happy gardening and keep fresh!

Stamatakis, E., Ahmadi, M.N., Gill, J.M.R. et al. Association of wearable device-measured vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity with mortality. Nat Med 28, 2521–2529 (2022).