Self-Care for the Gardener
Tend to yourself while gardening
Once Spring rolls around, the serious gardener starts working overtime. There always seems to be something to do—seeds to start, soil to work, perennials to clean up, and weeds and more weeds to pull. Since our home is at the top of a hill and has few large trees, the garden gets sun almost all day. That’s great for growing things, but not for my skin or hair.
Wear a hat
When selecting a hat, forgo fashion and go for lots of coverage—a full brim to shade the face, the tops of your ears, and the back of your neck. I prefer straw since it’s cooler, but canvas or nylon work. Invest in a good hat if you can; it will last longer and fit better. I usually have more than one on hand—but my favorite has been with me since 1978. Made in Italy, it came from the Saks Fifth Avenue mail order catalogue. If you don’t have a good local source, I also like those made by San Diego Hat Co., which buys from socially responsible manufacturers. I got my newest hat—with tons of coverage from COSTCO!
I also like to wear sunglasses—mine are prescription bifocals so I can see up-close when weeding or checking for garden pests. A tube of quality lip balm is always in my garden apron to protect my lips. Alba’s Terra Tints add a hint of color, so you always look good if neighbors come a calling.
Protect your skin
I remember when people used baby oil to attract sun, and spread zinc oxide on their noses after they burned. Now, it’s all about SPF and protection. Sadly, we also now know that a number of products contain chemicals that can cause a variety of health concerns. It’s a confusing issue that considers other factors, like length of use, to determine safety. When in doubt, check the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens; it really is a personal choice as to how natural you want to go. For my face, I love a natural day cream that has an spf of 18; my hat takes care of the rest.
Clothing is one of the best defenses; long-sleeved cotton shirts offer an SPF of 15. On particularly sunny days I add a lightweight woven scarf to protect the back of my neck. Many outdoor outfitters and specialty firms offer clothing formulated for more intensive sun protection. My Italian heritage gave me an olive complexion for a natural edge, and Seattle’s sun isn’t overly strong, so I make do with some long-sleeved cotton shirts—usually found at Goodwill. They keep me from getting scratched up when picking raspberries too! The safest option is to avoid the sun during mid-day peak hours whenever possible.
Stretch your muscles
Because gardening can often require a lot of bending, twisting and other muscle-stressing work, it’s smart to stretch before and after a day of work. A friend gave me a slim book entitled Gardener’s Yoga years ago, and though I am sometimes guilty of forgetting it’s sage advice, I feel better when I take the time to do a few poses before I start working. Yoga teacher Holly Walck has a great sequence on Maria Rodale’s blog.
At 60, I find my hands ache after a lot of use—a pretty common occurrence for me since I am always doing something that requires fine motor skills. Delicate weeding around plants takes its toll on aging fingers, so I turn to these Hand stretches for knitters and gardeners I discovered on one of the knitting blogs I follow.
Protect your hands…
It goes without saying that gloves are a must except for the most delicate gardening chores. I have a few pair of inexpensive rubber/fabric combo ones, so I always have a clean, dry pair at the ready. But even with gloves, my hands and nails get filthy after a full day of gardening. Then I turn to my trusty surgical scrub brush and a good natural soap made with essential oils. I like Gardener’s Soap from Seattle Seed Co. because it has some grit in it to help work the deep dirt out of my fingers. After a thorough cleansing, I work in a rich hand cream like this Dandelion & Tea one I got from a local vendor at a craft fair, followed up with Burt Bee’s Cuticle Cream.
Flip-flops are fine if you’re just pulling a head of lettuce and a few carrots for dinner, but heavy work requires sensible footwear. My plastic garden clogs provide the arch support I need while protecting my toes from dropped pruners. They keep my feet dry while watering and are easy to slip on and off so I don’t track dirt through the house. My heavy-duty Keens provide air circulation on exceptionally hot day, and clean off easily with a hose.
Stop and smell the roses
It can be tempting to work non-stop when there’s a lot to do in the garden. I know I’m sometimes guilty of pushing my body harder than I should—especially in Spring. But I’ve learned to allow myself a break every couple of hours. Fifteen minutes on the wicker swing with a cold drink helps me stay hydrated, and gives me the opportunity to take in the beauty around me and the energy to get back to the garden.
- Words by Andrea Leigh Ptak
- May 8, 2015
- 3 Comments
What a beautiful article, with wonderful pictures.
I just love your posts, THank you for putting this together.
I need to take better care of my hands and skin for sure,
I get out there gardening and forget about everything you wrote about.
I will lprint this up and put it on my bulletin board so I will remember
all the important self care procedures…
So glad you liked it. I need to remember to follow my own advice—though almost always wear a hat and gloves!
Wonderful tips, Andie … I love them! I’m always so tempted to head out without any protection. While I love the feel of the sun and breeze on my skin, I’m also very prone to burning (I’m Italian, too, but missed out on the olive skin in lieu of fair, burnable skin). I’ve also found another good reason to cover up … ticks. We have plenty of them at this time of year and they’re easier to see and avoid with white or light-colored long sleeves and long pants. Thanks, as always, for a wonderful post!