This issue:

  • How to save your back and knees;
  • When to stop work;
  • What our gardens need most

Hello Gardeners,

It’s finally summer and I’m BACK doing the newsletter again after a rather extended break! I have to tell you, it feels REALLY GOOD to be back!

If you’ve been out much, this super wet spring, I’m sure you noticed—can you believe the weeds this year?  It’s not your imagination–there really are more weeds, and it’s due largely to the extra rain. What can an eco-savvy gardener do to keep undesired plants from overwhelming the ones we’ve invested time and money in planting? We certainly aren’t going to reach for the herbicides… not us! So instead, I have two answers that have helped me for the last several years.

1. Ergonomics: the comfort and usability of things. My favorite garden tools are things that make weeding easier for my back and on my knees, which seem to be my weaknesses. One of the things I often recommend to people is either a stirrup hoe or a Dutch push hoe.

Any good hardware store will have the stirrup hoe, but the Dutch push hoe is a little pricier, and something you will probably have to buy online. Both allow me to weed without bending over. This only works in places where I don’t have to get in very close to the desirable plants. And it works best in older beds that are no longer receiving fresh mulch every year (in another post I’ll talk about why I only mulch new beds).

For those places with new mulch, and for tight places where I’m afraid the hoe could damage desired plants, I put on gloves and get closer. To make this work more comfortable, I have a short, folding gardener’s stool, and a simple kneeling cushion that I generally bring out to the garden with me. By alternating kneeling, then standing, then sitting, I use different muscle groups and reduce the strain in any one place.

2. Timing: not overdoing it.  Now, I personally do not come from a particularly sturdy background. Nor am I still in my twenties! So after much trial and a lot of error, I have learned to stop after an hour, when it comes to weeding. One little hour! That’s it for me! (Can you believe it–and I call myself a gardener!)

I always have a lot that I want to do in my landscape, and I resist the notion of slowing down–I want to get it all done YESTERDAY.  I usually have to remind myself to set a timer to avoid going longer than an hour, but it’s worth it.  I have discovered that if I stop at one hour, I can move on to other tasks without having to spend the rest of the day recuperating. And the really good thing is that I will then feel enthusiastic about going out again the next day, for another hour, and the next, and the next.

And this is the way to build a good rapport with your garden. Being there, observing, caring, noticing what comes and goes…the greatest gift a gardener can give to a garden is his or her abiding presence.

Chris Pax