Gardening with RA... yes you can!

Yes, I do many things differently and some I don’t even attempt. I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis for over 25 years. I’ve had several joints replaced and some scraped out and reassembled. I’m not a professional gardener - just an enthusiastic amateur.

I suppose the most important thing that I have learnt is not to try to complete a big task in one go, some days 15 minutes is enough - on better days 30 or 45 minutes.  It is what the physiotherapists call “pacing yourself”.  I have seats in various strategic spots and I’m always happy to stop and listen to the birds and enjoy being outside.  I often stop and do a different job  -  perhaps washing plant pots or pricking out seedlings  (I have a bar stool in the potting shed) or maybe I will re-pot something that has outgrown its present home as a break from more strenuous physical activity.

The common answer for those of us with mobility problems is often raised beds and long handled tools.  I have no raised beds and my only long handled tools are my hoe and my rake.  Over the years I have collected a few favourite things. I have a small cultivator with a “fist grip” handle.  The handle is at right angles to the functional bit which keeps my wrists happy.  I believe that there are several of this type of tool available and even an attachment to adapt your own.  I also have some loppers with a ratchet - they are about 14 inches long, are not heavy and are very efficient.  I use my “snippers” a lot, they are operated by the palm of my hand instead of my fingers.

About 21 years ago, I moved to my present home.  I share a 2 acre garden with my sister and brother-in-law - I don’t have to cut the grass!  I have several flower beds and a vegetable strip which is 4ft wide.  The largest flower bed has an elderly (unheated) greenhouse in one corner and over the years it has developed.  In the centre is an 18in high plastic tub holding water and an iris.  Radiating from this are several paths, so that I have 6 or 7 small flower beds.  I set myself to tackle one or ½ one at a time.  A lot can be achieved in the end.  I do have some help with the heavy digging occasionally, but I manage most of the pruning and hedge trimming myself.

But, let’s face it - you have to be an optimist to be a gardener.  I love being in the fresh air with the wild life all around and then hopefully to eat something that I have grown.

Spring 2011: By Muriel Hunnikin, NRAS Member and NRAS Group, Yeovil