Nothing is more restorative than a good day in the garden. We regain our balance, both physically and mentally, when we work outdoors

Share story






Nothing is more restorative than a good day in the garden. We regain our balance, both physically and mentally, when we work outdoors. Gardeners cultivate wonder, for every year we marvel anew over the miracle of a 6-foot-tall lily growing from a homely little knot of a bulb, or how neatly a hummingbird beak fits into a fuchsia flower.

Gardeners are never, ever bored because there’s always so much to learn, ponder and try out. Working the soil tunes us into nature’s comforting rhythms, the ebb and flow of the seasons, the ripening and renewing of plants and soil. Every autumn we plot the resurrection of our gardens, and each spring we’re wildly optimistic over the delights of the new season.

But all the work of gardening, while satisfying, can be hard on our bodies. I’ve always thought I needed to work out and do yoga daily to stay strong enough to tend my garden, to feel vigorous enough to be outdoors from dawn until dusk. There’s nothing worse than a lower-back twinge or cramp of the hand to jar you out of the gardening flow. Or worse yet, an injury that prevents you from gardening at all.

The new book “Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness” is a manifesto for keeping gardeners injury-free, a road map to fitness through gardening. What a timesaving concept — work out as you garden rather than work out in order to garden. I have to admit my favorite thing in the book is author Bunny Guinness’s assertion that one hour of serious gardening burns up 300 calories. Isn’t that about equal to the number of calories in a really good brownie?

Guinness writes that gardening not only engages our creative juices and helps us focus. Routine tasks like mowing, weeding and digging offer sufficient resistance to tone muscles as well as burn calories. Think of all the plants you can buy with the money you spent on that gym membership.

Jacqueline Knox teams up with Guinness to bring a physiotherapist’s expertise to the book. She looks to Pilates principles to put gardeners in touch with core muscles. Done correctly, with stretching before and after, gardening can lead to a balanced body, deep muscle strength and good posture.

Here’s the basic routine: warm muscles up with a short, brisk walk, do a few lunges and step-ups using whatever topography is at hand. For those with especially tight hamstrings or vulnerable lower backs, Knox offers specific exercises to help. Most useful may be the advice to pace yourself, drink plenty of water and know when to stop. A growing sense of discomfort in your lower back or a stiffening neck is a sign you need to take a break. When you’re through for the day, put off that hot bath until you’ve stretched long and slow.

Photos show Bunny and Jacqueline gardening correctly, with knee pads, sturdy boots and protective gear as needed. When they truck around heavy pails or watering cans, they carry one in each hand, equally weighted. I’d like to think I’d remember such common sense when I’m rushing to finish a task. More importantly, do you think I might convince my husband there’s no need for biking or kayaking because he can get fit helping in the garden?

Oh well, the book will help me stay strong and injury-free so I can accomplish all those tasks I’d love to assign to him.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net.