Gardening with MS

I have a bit of a side kick that shadows me wherever I go.  Most days it is barely noticeable, well not to me, because I’ve learnt to put the nuances it brings to one side and not give it the attention it demands.  Other times it is so demanding of my attention it is impossible to ignore and I have to stop what I’m doing and give into it so, giving it the time it needs to stop bothering me.  This could easily describe Jasper the Dog with his helpful hole digging in the middle of my paths or dropping tennis balls at my feet begging me to throw them for him or racing at full speed around the garden beds like a maniac just let loose from bondage, or just lying there in the shade of the artichoke slumbering quietly in the heat of the day.

Young Sarah the Gardener
It turns out I was always a bit of a gardener

Alas no, if only that was so simple.  Managing a dog in the garden makes things interesting but not unmanageable.  The side kick I take everywhere with me is MS – Multiple Sclerosis.  It isn’t a secret that I’ve kept hidden, it is common knowledge I’m not afraid to tell people about.  While it is something I have and effects decisions I may make, it doesn’t have me, and I have chosen not to let it control me or limit me.  It is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience.

Young Sarah the Gardener
My mum found some photos of me doing what I do best… being in the garden

But at the same time, it is my biggest blessing and I am thankful for it.  I first found something was wrong while I was pregnant with the Joeyosaurus.  Of course, the first thoughts are …  ‘oh no… the baby…’ So, I got it checked out instead of trying and failing to remember to get things checked out next time I was at the Doctor.   It is so worth getting the most minor worry looked at by your doctor.  Too bad if you think they think you are a hypochondriac – you’re the one paying for their time!

Young Sarah the Gardener
When I really think about it, one of my earliest memories is being in a verdant vegetable patch and seeing the rainbow that happens while watering the garden with a hose. We didn’t live there long so we can safely say I was about 3 years old

The final confirmed diagnosis of MS prompted us to move from our city lives into the country and that was where I first put a spade into soil and instantly fell in love with gardening.  My health flourished with the exercise and outdoor activity.  Soaking in the sun’s rays enriched my absorption of Vitamin D, something MS people aren’t that good at processing.  The fresh food and healthy diet that came as a result of my efforts in the garden allowed my health to flourish.   I was more myself than I’ve ever been.

The Joeyosaurus
This tiny little Joeyosaurus’s arrival helped to change the course of our lives. He didn’t cause it, but because of him things did indeed change.

For most keen vegie gardeners I’ve ever met, it can become addictive and quite the obsession and it had me hook, line and sinker.  I was a gardener through and through.  When people asked me how I was I’d reply, ‘not good, I’ve got blight’ then have to add ‘in my tomatoes’.  But my meagre four bed garden that first hosted the crops I grew in the first season somehow became the 36 I have now.  I think by anyone’s standards 36 is a lot.  Managing 36 beds isn’t easy for most people but throw MS into the mix and it becomes even more challenging.

my first garden
My first garden in the country was wonderful. It was one of those perfect seasons where everything grew well and made me love every little thing about gardening.

But I have found a way to not only manage my garden but allow it, and me, to thrive.   The first philosophy is little and often.  Don’t over do things.  It is tempting when in a serious gardening session, weeding, digging or some other arduous task to push through to the end to get it done.  This isn’t necessary.  Most gardening tasks are not time dependant.  And if they are the window is weeks or even months.  It is certainly never a day or a weekend.   So, tackling a bite size chunk at a time with loads of breaks of hours or even days in between.  Or mix it up so the day is made of different tasks – some easy, some a little more challenging.

The Joeyosaurus
Over the years the little fella grew to enjoy the garden. It is where he got his name ‘The Joeyosaurus – The Lesser Known Strawberry Eater’, as he would sit in the strawberry patch and scoff every single one!

Provide yourself with plenty of nice places to sit and rest and admire all you have achieved.  And use them often.  I have chairs in the shade at the front of my office shed which I expect will get more use once summer arrives. And then there is my wonderful swing seat which is tall enough that your feet don’t touch the ground, so you are reverted back to childhood as you swing your feet freely.  Once seated I’m reluctant to get back up, it is so relaxing, which is the whole point.  It is easy to stop – gulp a cuppa tea and carry on.  On the swing seat is seductive and you linger there much longer.

My office shed chair
I also have a comfy chair in my office shed for the times I need to relax in comfort but don’t want to go back into the house.

Staying on top of the garden all year long is also a great benefit so there is no need for intensive boom and bust weeding sessions.  I have divided my garden into 5 groups and on the Monday, I only take care of group 1 with weeding, feeding, watering, pruning, deadheading and tying in etc.  Then on Tuesday it is group 2, although I have to say group 5 on a Friday often gets the short end of the stick.  Harvesting across the whole garden is done when it is needed, that is one thing that doesn’t wait.   But even in winter, when nothing is growing a quick check for weeds or problems keeps everything manageable.

Jasper the Dog
When your body tells you to rest, it is a good idea to listen to it. Something Jasper the Dog seems to know how to do really well.

Asking for help is another essential tool.  I’m terrible at it because I’m a control freak in the garden and prefer things done my way.  I am so pleased Hubby the Un-Gardener has no interest in gardening – I’m sure there would be a territorial struggle of wills that would turn the garden into a battlefield.  But no, his role that he has willingly accepted from those first days in the garden was to do heaving lifting and dig on demand.  I may have put the first spade in – but he did the rest – digging is hard work!

the top end of the garden
I love how my swing seat overlooks the garden. It also looks out to sea and is a wonderful spot to watch the sun go down on an enjoyable day in the garden

The last thing is listen to your body and if it is telling you to stop then it is in your best interests to stop.  Sort of like when the oil light comes on in the car.  It is better to have a short rest than do some long term damage that can keep you out of the garden for days.

My garden
I’d love to say I did this all by myself, but to be honest there were plenty of wonderful people who helped out along the way and I don’t expect they will be the only ones to lend a hand going forward.

It is around about now, 14 years ago my life changed irreversibly, but to be honest I firmly believe it changed for the better and introduced me to the 2nd love of my life (after family) gardening and I couldn’t be happier to be inconvenienced by this strange little side kick.

Come again soon – the weather is rubbish again; normal gardening will resume shortly.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

20 thoughts on “Gardening with MS

  1. Thanks for sharibg that Sarah. Gardening is in our genes and I too get much peace from being in the garden either thinking or singing(badly) along to spotify!! I need to take your advice and stop when it hurts… but thats too soon!! These days i only garden when the weather is hood. Gobe are days of gardening in a lammie and beanie. Keep up the awesome work. Love aunty L.

    1. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t garden! I think I’d always find a way, even if I have to become a fair weathered lady gardener! I hope you find plenty of peace or opportunities to sing loudly in your garden this summer. : o) xxx

  2. Thank you for that lovely post, I love reading your stories, my heart always lifts when I see your blog in my inbox 🙂

  3. Little and often… I often manage only 15 minutes a day in the garden – mostly weeding – but it’s cheering to see the difference even that can make.
    Lovely to see your Darn Cute baby and your elegantly comfortable (if rather pre-occupied) chair. I don’t think there’s any seating in my garden (apart from the ground) – will have to think about that.

    1. I think the mistake most people make is trying to do it all in one go. Your 15 minutes of weeding a day will get you there in plenty of time. He was such a cute wee baby, now he is a strapping young teen and just as lovely!
      If you have nice places to sit in the garden you are more likely to actually use them, : o)

  4. Hi Sarah, as an M. E. Afflicted human, I’ve often wondered how you cope in your huge garden with your M. S. It is indeed frustrating wanting so much to do things in the garden and being too dizzy, sore, tired to actually even get there. I so admire you. I use the spoon analogy, and an hour in my garden uses up 90% of my daily spoon allowance. Recently I bought a self watering garden trough and it’s made a huge difference to my life. For those of us with gardening genes, we will always find a way to wriggle around our health issues in order to garden!!! Good luck with your orchard, just read about your harrowing experience – think at some stage all of us have done that. Happy gardening. Lynne

    1. I’m sorry to hear you know what I mean through your own experience. We look at it in the similar way – I haven’t been dished out the same amount of energy as everyone else so we need to decide how best to use it to make it to the end of the day without crashing into a heap on the sofa. Although some days we say ‘to heck with it and push through, knowing things won’t be so great later – but it is always worth it! Gardening are such healing places in so many ways, I’m glad your garden trough makes things easier for you. Cheers Sarah : o)

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I have some yet-unnamed inflammatory condition that rears its ugly head on occasion and can last for months (or years) without a break, if I’m not on top of it… or maybe even if I am.
    Gardening is my happy place, but when I’m in a flare up I really can’t do much more than hold a hose or plan and read. I just purchased all my fall seeds, seed starter, planned it all out, and then relapsed. So now I guess comes the “ask for help” part. Which is all the harder as there is already so much help given just in the day to day… But if the carrots are late or the first rows of beans die from the heat and no rain, there’s worse things that could’ve happened.

    1. I think there are more people out there than is realised who have invisible illnesses. I feel like gardening saved me and I would be lost with out it. Which makes it all the more important to ask for help, because it can’t not happen each season. Having said that the window to get things done is often long and wide and can be worked around. All the best with your health. I hope you find a way to keep it under control. Cheers Sarah : o)

  6. You are an amazing girl .. ! How I love the idea of different days for different parts of the garden. My biggest problem is I keep on working .. and often pay for it. Your garden is super Sarah 🙂

  7. How lovely to find you! I too have MS and have spent years trying to hide it. My garden is one of the most important things in my life and I worry more about loosing it than almost anything in my life. May the ghost on our shoulders stay light and the thumbs green! 🌸🌿😀🌞🌳

    1. Hi Cathy. Sorry it took so long to get back to you with this reply. I have been through a challenging time recently – surprisingly it has nothing at all to do with the MS! Enjoy your garden. : o)

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