Gardening with Arthritis

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Gardening with Arthritis

Marki has always been one of the hardest working DIYers I’ve ever known. When she caught Lyme disease a couple of years ago, crippling rheumatoid arthritis followed.

Marki has always been one of the hardest working DIYers I’ve ever known. She’s a professional artist, a hobbiest crafter, and she’s a passionate gardener. Although arthritis doesn’t run in her family, when she caught Lyme disease a couple of years ago, crippling rheumatoid arthritis followed, nearly ending her ability to do any the things she loves – let alone the simple things like opening a packet of seeds or even driving herself to a nursery to shop for plants. Fortunately, her Lyme is in remission, and she’s finding ways to live with the arthritis that has permanently damaged some of her joints and pains her all the time. When she began to find her energy again, she was compelled by her inner nature to get out into her garden again. As she told me on the phone during our interview, “Gardening makes the arthritis better. The more active you are; the better you are.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you, Marki is my mom. She’s one of the first people who taught me how to garden. My childhood was filled with summer days weeding rows of snap beans, autumn afternoons raking leaves, and chilly winter nights birthing lambs – all alongside my multi-talented, mentoring mother. She taught me creativity, enthusiasm and how to stay strong and limber while working hard outdoors. So when she was stricken with Lyme accompanied by debilitating arthritis, I was heartbroken to see her lose her capacity and drive to garden. When she began recuperating from the Lyme and relearning how to garden with an arthritic body, I knew she’d appreciate trying out some of the Arthritis Foundation award-winning Fiskars tools designed to alleviate the stresses arthritis sufferers endure everyday.

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Now that Mom’s out there gardening again, there’s very little she doesn’t do. She hauls rocks, transplants, clips, saws, rakes and weeds. Her grandkids help her with some of the work like pulling out tenacious oak saplings, but for the most part, she spends anywhere from 3-10 hours a day during the peak season caring on her own for her deciduous forest garden on a clayey slope in suburban Virginia. When I asked her if her claw-like hands hurt after such long days gardening, ever the optimist, she quipped, “Nope. The other day, I cut out dead growth on a bunch of old azaleas going up my driveway hill using my new Power Tooth Softgrip Folding Pruning Saw, and my hands didn’t get tired at all. I still can’t make a fist, but my hands have gotten a lot stronger lately.”

Mom’s favorite among all the tools we asked her to try are the Easy Action Scissors, which I had added onto her package on a whim. And, turns out, she can’t stop raving about them. They may not be sold as gardening tools, but that doesn’t mean Marki can’t find a gardening use for them. An avid birder, Marki feeds the songbirds on her front porch year-round. “These scissors are great on the plastic seed bags and on fertilizer bags. When I try to use regular scissors, it’s like trying to write with the wrong hand. “

The reality is: Mom’s hands just don’t work the way they used to; some joints simply don’t bend; others are frozen into a bent position. The Easy Action Scissors are designed to require little exertion from the user, which has made her gardening, birding, scrapbooking and collage-making endeavors more feasible. She’ll admit she even uses her treasured scissors for minor snips in the garden: “I use them for small pruning jobs, but I don’t want to ruin them. I’m going to get a second pair – one for indoors; one for outdoors!”

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Finally, Mom was floored by what she could accomplish with the Powergear Lop ‘n Saw. “I like the smooth action and power they give me to cut easily right though at least a 1” diameter branch. Plus, they’re easy to use on both fresh, supple wood and tough, old wood.”

Tough. Old. Wood.

That pretty much sounds like how Mom’s rigid, arthritic hands look to me, except now she’s on the road to becoming evermore agile by gardening carefully and using the right tool for each job. In addition to taking her time at her chores, Marki recommends keeping your arthritic hands warm and protected. “I wear gloves to keep my hands warm when I garden, which seems to help them remain more flexible and limber. I’ll run warm water over them after working, which helps as well. But mostly, I say: ‘get out there and just garden!’ Do a little bit & then a little bit more. Do not over-do it. Rest. Keep your balance, and don’t fall and get hurt. And every day you’ll find you can do a little bit more, and you’ll feel better.”