Yes, You Can Actually Garden with RAby Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R. Patient Advocate
Are you concerned that you'll have to give up your garden because you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Don't worry. The gardening tips below, using the M.A.S.T.E.R.mind approach, can help you get growing this season.
Many of us with RA have become excellent managers. To get through the day, we plan, organize, forecast, arrange, represent, maintain and refine a host of managerial skills that can also be applied to gardening.
Some questions to consider:
Are you able to manage the size and design of your garden?
How can you design your garden to meet your changing abilities?
Do you have help? Can you afford to pay someone?
Is your garden ornamental or do you want to eat from it?
Do you know what kind of plants you want to grow? For example, oregano, mint and grape hyacinths are garden hogs. (Trust me, I know this from experience!)
One of the most important skills I've learned through living with RA is to be adaptable. The more I put this into practice, the less frustrated I am. Frustration leads to stress. Stress contributes to inflammation. And inflammation is something I don't want to encourage.
So be adaptable in your garden:
Consider adding indigenous or drought-resistant plants and shrubs to your garden. These don't need as much water, so you won't have to drag out that heavy hose as frequently.
Use mulch, cedar chips or lava rocks to help to keep the weeds down.
If you've decided that a garden is not manageable, but you like the art, the colors and the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor, a vast array of containers are available to make it easier for you to get your gardening fix. Invest in a plant caddy to make it easier to move your containers around.
There's more to a garden than plants. Exercise your artistic side with the placement of garden statuary, bric Ãbrac, and recycled items. Pinterest boards are a great source for ideas that will have you oohing and ahhing.
Add some lights and candles for drama. There's something wonderful about sitting outside under a midnight blue sky, with fairy lights strewn artfully about in your garden.
Develop a system that accommodates your disease. For example, I like to do my weeding when the ground is wet--the ground is pliant and weeds surrender quite easily. Additionally, I find the sound of the gently falling rain soothing.
Are you able to automate the watering system?
Bring someone in to put down a weed barrier. Choose from a plastic liner underneath the soil, mulch, cedar chips or lava rocks. The investment will pay off over time.
We've come a long way when it comes to tools, gadgets and devices. When I first developed RA 36 years ago, "ergonomic" was not a word in most people's vocabulary.
Today, a wide range of ergonomic tools allow you to keep working in the garden. Some of my favorites are:
Pruners from Fiskars ®. Their patented Power Gear ® system is brilliant - it makes me want to wave my magic wand and put it in place in all sorts of tools and gadgets.
Watering can from Fiskars ®. This watering can is just too heavy for me, but it might work for you. The swivel handle means the watering can does most of the work when you tip it over and pour it out.
Telescoping Trowel. Depending on how advanced your disease is, or whether or not you are flaring, a shovel may be too unwieldy. Getting down on my hands and knees is verboten, so this trowel with an adjustable handle is ideal.
Snap 2.0. I still don't have one of these, but I would sure like one. Arthritic wrists don't like twisting and turning motions. This snap-on hose adapter looks like it may alleviate the torsion problem.
Ask for help and/or accept help when it is offered.
When we first moved into our neighborhood, a lot of young children wanted to "help" me in the garden. I accepted their help - it may have taken longer, but it gave me an opportunity to foster their interest in gardening. They helped me weed and fill my containers with soil.
Another option is to contact your local high school. Students may need volunteer hours to complete their course requirements.
Look into bartering or hiring a garden service. How about yard-sharing? Some city dwellers, who do not have a yard, might welcome the opportunity to grow some vegetables and flowers.
R=Rest and restore
Unless you have a team to swoop in and work its magic, most gardens evolve over time. Many plants, shrubs and trees take time to mature. You do not have to do it all in one day. Take frequent breaks. Listen to your body - develop a system that honors what you can (and can't) do.
If gardening has become too onerous for you, you can still feed your senses by visiting your neighbor's garden, a city park or a garden center.
Find somewhere comfortable to sit. Put your feet up. Get your favorite libation. Enjoy!