Can I garden when I have fibromyalgia?
Gardening and fibromyalgia may not seem compatible. But gardening can be a very rewarding hobby, especially when you see your plants growing as a direct result of the work you have put in. With a bit of planning and some adaptations, gardening can easily be enjoyed, even with a chronic illness and there’s no better time to start than the onset of Spring!
If you’re fortunate enough to have a garden at home, gardening can be an ideal hobby as we don’t have to expend time and energy in going far in order to partake. But even if you only have space for a few pots or a window box, you can still benefit from what gardening has to offer.
The importance of hobbies when you have a chronic illness
Hobbies are vital for those of us living with chronic illness and engaging in meaningful activity takes our minds off of the pain and allows us to build coping skills. Getting out in the garden means that we are benefiting from gentle exercise (although care must be taken not to overdo it – refer to the tips section for more about this) as well as from spending time in a natural environment. Gardening also offers the possibility of developing new skills whether this is planting seeds, propagating, growing vegetables or identifying plants. And skills development, in turn, can build self-confidence and self-esteem.
It’s also a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness allowing us to appreciate the nature on our doorstep, the changing seasons and developing connections with our environment. Gardens can be a refuge from the hectic world around us and offer us the possibility of slowing down and immersing ourselves in a multi-sensory experience with sights, smells, textures and sounds all there to be savoured.
If you feel that gardening might be worth a look, then here are some tips to get you started and keep you comfortable whilst you do so.
Fibromyalgia Gardening Tips
1 – Start small
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by gardening, if not by the sheer amount there is to know, then perhaps by how much there might be to do if you are just starting out with your garden. It is often best to start small, maybe with a few pots or even just a window box. This introduces you slowly to gardening and being rewarded with results, even on a small scale, can often give the impetus to continue. Then as your knowledge, confidence and motivation all increase, you will be able to tackle bigger or more complex projects.
2 – Make good use of tools and equipment
Make yourself as comfortable as possible by using aids such as kneeling pads, seed planters, weed pullers and long handled gardening tools. Personally, I find it hard to stand up and kneel down on a pad but I swear by my little step stool that I move around the garden with me as I go. Using this means that I can plant and weed whilst I am sat down.
Raised beds are also great as they prevent you from having to bend down to do things, which can be incredibly painful.
3 – Choose low maintenance plants
I don’t bother with any bedding plants as they’re far too high maintenance for me, requiring lots of watering as well as needing to plant them up in the first place, plus refreshing them with the seasons.
Instead, my garden is full of what I call my “lazy gardener” plants which are pretty tolerant of the odd bit of neglect and are generally hardy perennials which will appear year after year. I’m a fan of hellebores, perennial wallflower (Bowles’s mauve), crocosmia and also shrubs – all of which tend to be low maintenance. Herbs are fantastic too and I have feverfew, nepeta, rosemary, lemon balm and several varieties of mint amongst others.
True, my garden may not be a total riot of colour in the summer but many of these plants have the added bonus of being very wildlife friendly, and that’s just fine by me.
4 – Don’t dismiss growing food
For me, growing vegetables always seemed like a lot of back breaking work involving hours of digging and until a couple of years ago was something that I’d avoided. It was a chance conversation with a keen gardener I’d met through voluntary work which opened my eyes to the wide variety of vegetables which can be grown successfully in containers and may make this much more achievable when gardening with fibromyalgia.
Now, I find that growing veg is the most rewarding part of gardening, especially when tucking into produce that I’ve grown myself. Last year’s crop included tomatoes, runner beans, courgettes, chard, rocket, lettuce and potatoes, all from containers or grow-bags.
Raised vegetable planters are available to reduce the need to bend and therefore hopefully avoid any back pain, but these are quite expensive. My own low-tech solution is to put my bags and pots of veg on an old kitchen trolley and a patio table, which has the same effect (although admittedly doesn’t look quite so stylish!).
5 – Enlist help
I couldn’t garden without getting help with certain tasks that I am physical unable to do or would cause me a huge amount of pain. Anything involving repeated bending and straightening or heavy lifting is guaranteed to send my pain levels through the roof, so this is where I ask for help from family and friends. I’ve found that being specific about what I’d like help with is useful so instead of asking generally for “some help in the garden”, I’m more inclined to say “I’d like some help filling these pots with compost please”. This makes the task seem less daunting and open-ended for the “volunteer” and may mean they are more likely to lend a hand!
6 – Understand the patterns of light and heat in your garden
I know that many of us (myself included) are sensitive to bright light and / or heat. By observing how the sun moves around your garden, you can plan to work in the cool or shade as needed to stay comfortable.
7 – Use time management and pacing techniques
Gardening can be addictive and it’s often easy to become engrossed in a task, leading to overdoing it and ending up in a world of pain. To help avoid this, it’s important to break tasks down into small chunks or set time limits before taking a rest break.
It may also be helpful to consider if there are certain times of the day during when your pain levels tend to be lower and planning to garden during these times if possible. Doing this should help minimise any pain and ensure that you can continue to reap the rewards of spending time in the garden.
Above all, enjoy your time outdoors and stay safe!