The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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One does not need a dog

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I have recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis.  This is bad news not only because I am relatively young, but also that the disease has hit my spine.  I have read a lot about the condition and how it can be avoided or its onset reduced.  I have been prescribed Vitamin D and calcium tablets but it is not enough to swallow tablets.  Being outside in the actual sunshine is more important.  But Britain does not have enough sun all through the year and in the winter months, it is particularly difficult getting the right amount of sun every day.  So as soon as I see the sun coming out, I am impatient to get out- sunshine is like precious gold, I have decided.  Having seen how dog owners are quite healthy, I have been going outdoors and reading or walking for most days- even when it is raining or cold. No, one doesn’t have to have a dog to go outside- having children can help but even if you don’t have either of those, going out helps. And it certainly costs less.  I also enjoy watching children playing- their joy is infectious.  In this photo taken this afternoon, these boys were black with mud but really totally engrossed in their muddy football.  It brought a smile to my face.

In a recent study at the University of Exeter lead by Matthew White, it was revealed that the health benefits of being outdoors is as much as about a third of the impact of getting married (minus the costs!) and a tenth of the impact of being employed.  So it shows that one does not need to be married or employed to get the benefits of being outdoors.  In the Netherlands, a study of almost 350,000 people, found that the people were less likely to have 24 of 35 diseases and in Japan, another study found that elderly people were more likely to live longer if they used open spaces.  The positive effects of being outdoors last longer than the euphoria that comes from winning the lottery or getting a pay rise or promotion.  And with little stress involved!

I remember a documentary about the children’s author, Judith Kerr, who is now 93.  Come any weather, she talks a walk for two hours every day.  How amazing she looks and how creative she is.  Engaging with nature influences our mental being by raising our spirits and exercising our mental abilities.  Many mover and shakers and authors have described how their creativity is helped by walking- Thoreau, Gandhi, and many others along with Kerr were walkers.  Further, walking is in streets is better than no walking- the health benefits of a weight bearing exercise like walking outweighs the risks from pollution.  So get your precious gold today- one doesn’t need a dog!


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three benefits of gardening

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I have but a modest little balcony to adorn with flowers and it has given me such valuable benefits, apart from the food I grow in containers.  Here the three main benefits-

1. Exercise- bending, straightening up, kneeling, stretching, lifting (carefully!), lifting up on your toes- all these positions that we use while gardening are also poses used in Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises.  With care, these can become a  part of our daily routine- and time saving as well because you can exercise while doing something else .  Gardeners are some of the healthiest and fittest people I have seen.

2. Mental health- The gardener’s concentration skills and calmness are also affected positively by what they do and how they do it.  I suppose that is why Zen monks take such good care of their gardens. It is a two way process- creating beauty with very little (some Zen gardens are just raked sand and stones) which in turn gives the benefits of creativity and calmness. Spending time outdoors is also healing.

3. Building better bones- I recently had a health scare when my blood test revealed very little Vitamin D.  The lack of vitamin D can lead to bone pain and tenderness due to a condition called osteomalacia.  Despite doing Yoga and stretching, I was still suffering from aches and pains (and am due to visit a physiotherapist).  I have been prescribed Vitamin D tablets now.  However, I was surprised to learn that these tablets by themselves do not do much- they still need sunlight to make them effective.  Sunlight has UV light that helps Vitamin D to absorb the calcium from food.  Particularly for women after the age of 30-35 when bones start to disintegrate and for older people, sunlight is essential.  However too much UV exposure can lead to melanoma and pre-mature skin ageing.  So I was scared of going in the sun.  However, if you do your outdoor gardening before 11-00 am and after 4-00pm, when the sun has lost its fierceness, you will be be fine as long as you don’t let your skin burn.  About 5 minutes exposure to white skin is fine while darker skins should be out for longer.

My 81 year old Japanese friend who looks at least 20 years younger, gave me this tip- she exposes her palms and lower arms to the sun for about 20 minutes and she has had no problems at all.  This can be done very easily when gardening.