It’s never easy when something is staring you in the face that you are doing your best to ignore. It doesn’t matter where you turn, it’s there telling you it’s time to face some hard facts. The fact is my ME is getting worse, not better. The fact is if I want to recover, I need to give more things up so I can rest a lot more. The fact is, I simply cannot garden with ME as I have been in the last year.
Of course, it’s not just gardening of which I’ve still been doing too much. It’s other things too, such as trying to study, long-distance, for my bookkeeping certificate, helping my partner set up our new company, Zukini, as a platform to launch his video-editing Mac software, the day-to-day life stuff (from having a shower to paying bills and doing housework) and of not pacing out more carefully time spent with friends. It’s very hard when you are enjoying the company of friends to stop and say “I have to go and lie down for an hour”.
Stopping gardening altogether is not an option. No gardening, what’s the point of life?! So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to continue gardening, but on at a further reduced level. I’ve come up with the following plan:
Paying someone to help me with the gardening: this I’ve already started, with a lovely guy, Chris, who isn’t a gardener per se, but is interested and willing. It’s only short term as he is looking for a full-time job (he is a chemist PhD), so I’m trying to make the most of him whilst I can. He has got lots done, from weeding and mowing to adding well-rotted manure and compost to the beds and planters in readiness for spring bulbs and garlic. The latter is so I don’t have to do any preparation at all, just push the bulbs and cloves in to the soil, which is the easy part.
Rethinking what needs doing: following on from making the most of Chris, I’ve made a very long list of tasks that need doing and am carefully prioritising these. Anything heavy or requiring physical strength is on top of the list, such as moving manure around, putting up more wire for my Morello Cherry espalier. This also means that I got him to pick all the climbing french beans, then take down all the canes etc at the start of October, even though they were still producing. The beans came out early so that the beds can be prepared for planting of spring bulbs.
Cutting back on what vegetables I plan to grow next year: I’m working on a list of Spoonie Veg*, that is, vegetables that don’t need too much attention and are easy to grow and maintain for people with chronic health conditions like ME. I hope to blog about this in more detail over winter. To give you a quick flavour:
In: garlic, dwarf broad beans, dwarf french beans, peas, spinach/chard, beetroot, parsnips, carrots, courgettes and pumpkins. Except for garlic, I’ll be growing less of each next year, compared to what I grew this year.
Out: tomatoes, most brassicas (except kohl rabi and maybe kale), climbing french beans (the extra work putting up the canes), potatoes, aubergines and sweetcorn.
I’m reducing how many beds will be for vegetable production, and I will be throwing in some annual wildflowers and a few perennials for interest, but requiring little work, in that space.
Accepting that the perennial borders might not always get well looked after: one of the reasons I stopped doing End of Month View a couple of months ago, is that my Long Shady Border was getting literally no attention from me and it was looking pretty messy and un-weeded. I just had no time to maintain it, as what little energy I had was focused on the vegetables. In some ways, this is where growing hardy perennials comes into their own, as they can manage for a time without too much attention. Most of the plants were in good health, some starting to take over(!), but the border was looking scraggly, the weeds getting bigger and and any thoughts about editing some sections were out of the question. Although I’m cutting down on the veg growing next year, I need to accept that I cannot go and use that ‘spare’ energy on the perennials. No, I have to do less, a lot less, and the point is to cut back. The perennial borders may continue to be scraggly. So be it.
Right: Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group) ‘Brunette’ in the Long Shady Border
Severe reduction in plant buying: this is going to be really hard, but I’m setting a rule that I cannot buy any new plants until any previously purchased plants have been planted out. In fact, I really need to stop plant buying and focus my limited energy (spoons!) on the maintenance of what I already have. Easier said than done though. It’s so hard to stop buying more plants. There is so much pretty out there.
Future garden help: in the long term, I’d like to find an experienced gardener that can help out say once a month, but I will worry about that next year.
Overall, my aim it to try to continue to garden with ME but on a much smaller scale. I have to accept there will be weeks where little, if anything, gets done. I’m trying hard psychologically to be ok with this, which isn’t easy, as I’m sure you can imagine. But I need to face the hard facts as they are. If I want to be able to continue to garden in the future, I need to look after my health now.
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*Spoonie comes from Spoon Theory, by Christine Miserandino. Her website But you don’t look sick explains it fully. For a simple introduction, I recommend Suzy Coulson’s How will I use my spoons today poster (right). I have c. 15 spoons a day and might use some of them thus:
x1 spoon getting up
x3 spoons shower
x2 spoons x 3 for breakfast, lunch & dinner
That’s 10 spoons already.
I welcome your thoughts and comments. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, do link to this post in your blog and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.
Twitter hashtag: #GardeningWithME