Diary of a Disabled Gardener

Every year in early spring I scan my garden, noting the ravages that winter visited on what was once a lush landscape. My small patch of earth in zone 5 contains a whole ecosystem where the cycle of birth, life, and death unfolds from April to November. It humbles me to play a small role in this drama.

Managing a garden is like managing MS

Weakness and bad balance can force me to play only a walk-on part. By mid-July I mostly watch from the wings, venturing out to water the thirsty hanging plants mornings and evenings and then quickly withdrawing inside to the air-conditioning. I haven’t yet met a petunia or a person with MS that likes full sun and 90-degree heat. By late summer, my garden is gasping for breath, as am I. Managing a garden is much like managing MS.

With MS, there are days when I’m so distracted and forgetful that I’m surprised my head is still attached to my neck. In early May, my little concrete angel boy, who sits in the birdbath each summer, actually did lose his head sometime during the winter. I found it lying in his lap, eyes gazing dolefully at the sky:

Small statue of angel boy with head broken off next to body.

I thought about how to reattach it and rummaged through my household stores for some kind of glue but came up empty. I squeezed my temples and chanted think, think, what can you use as an adhesive? Inside my garden storage box was a clear-coat can of Flex Seal I’d purchased to seal a crack in the bottom of my concrete birdbath—and it worked!  Now my angel boy sits in the water with a good head on his shoulders once again:

Intact angel boy statue atop a stone bird bath.

Overcoming leg weakness with a new tool

My MS disabilities include a pair of weak legs, so digging holes and popping out deep-rooted weeds can be downright impossible—until my neighbor lent me a long-handled trowel, a Frankenstein of a tool that joined a regular hand trowel to a long plastic handle with duct tape. No more crouching into a deep lunge and falling on my tush, nor will I ever again have to sit on the ground to weed only to spend twenty minutes struggling to get back on my feet:

The homemade long-handled trowel.

(Note: There are long-handled trowels for sale, too, you don’t have to make one.)

An easy fix, like the early days with MS

That problem was fairly easy to fix. Kind of like being in the early stages of MS when my only problem was foot drop after walking seven miles, and the fix was to sit and rest for twenty minutes. Once my annuals were potted, the perennials starting to bloom and the cushions were plopped on their patio chairs, everything looked great. Then the insects and deer came, leaving some of the foliage in tatters and the lily flower buds eaten under a full moon. But I was prepared. I whipped out insecticide and deer repellent left over from last year and spritzed a generous amount on everything, stopping them from eating the leftovers the next night. I haven’t found hoof prints or insect choppers’ chew marks for weeks now.

Experience and help makes a difference

Experience counts for a lot. Having the same problem crop up time and again gets less stressful to manage when the fix is already known and at hand. I get plenty of curveballs and beanballs thrown my way, too, but I don’t have to figure out everything by myself all the time. I have people who help me, too, in the garden and otherwise. Their help makes me better able to enjoy life.

Fighting for a place to better feel joy

Multiple sclerosis provides detours and setbacks, relapses and pseudo-relapses, ups and downs, ins and outs, and increased deficits, all giving us something solid to push against and fight our way back to a more functional platform, a place where we can better feel joy, wonder, and simple pleasures—like a garden. Here are some pictures of my little Shangri-La. I hope you’ll enjoy looking at my garden as much as I do.

Pink and purple Clematis Josephine in bloom.

Patio with a table and two chairs near potted plants.

Bamboo fence with various leafy green plants and flowers.

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