02 February 2015

Gardening with ME: Getting Comfortable

Hazel in flower
With illnesses like ME, fatigue and pain as well as brain fog and concentration lapses are common. So, it's important to make sure that when you garden, you are as comfortable as possible to help keep symptoms at bay. With trial and error, you should be able to find an approach that allows you to focus on your hobby - even if just for a few minutes - instead of worsening your symptoms.

In this third post, I write about a few ideas from my 'Gardening with ME Toolbox' for keeping comfortable.

Firstly, I found that wearing more than I would have expected to wear was a great first step. While you may be doing something that increases your heart rate and gets your sweating, you're probably likely be in the same position for quite a while weeding or pruning. Therefore, wearing more is much better than being uncomfortable with cold, knowing that if you spend your energy getting another jumper - you're not going to have the energy to get back outside and carry on. It's much easier to take your hat, gloves, 4th layer of jumper off if you get too warm.

Also surprisingly, you may need your sunglasses too - the sun may be too bright in the summer, but it can also be at an awkward angle during the winter. So while it may not be as bright as summer, it may still be in your eyes.

Of course, you'll know what will make you comfortable - but it took me a few attempts to realise that things that I needed to take outside with me. One of the things I eventually realised was that it was better for me to wear walking boots, because they provided much better insulation during the winter months than my trainers. This wasn't something I'd thought of before - but then I hadn't been sat for ages pruning before either!

Another thing to think about is the task at hand. If it's cold out and you know you're going to be sat in the same position, it may be worth wearing thermal socks or a couple of layers of normal socks.

All of these things can be taken off as soon as you get inside, so you should be able to maintain a good temperature without getting too cold outside, or too hot when you return back to the comfort of the sofa.

Secondly, make sure that you have a range of seating available to you. I now have three different options. The camping stool for when I'm going to be 'quick' - it's also very light, which is great if I'm going out for a wander.

I also have the more solid garden seat, which can be turned the other way around and used as a kneeler. I often use this when pruning or observing wildlife in my garden. It allows you to sit there in comfort and enjoy your surroundings. The great thing about this is that it's comfortable for extended periods, the metal legs can be used to help you get up, and it folds away! What more could you ask for? What more indeed!

Well actually sometimes you need to kneel just for a short period, or you just need to be that bit closer to the ground to get at the pesky weeds. Well for that job is the fantastic mat below. It's really good for the price (no more than a couple of quid) and is light as a feather. The hanging tab comes in handy too. This one is also handy for when I'm trying to take photographs of my invertebrate friends, because the darn things move and I can be on my knees for a few minutes trying to get a good enough picture for the blog!

Have a look online or in your local DIY-type stores, I hadn't noticed these things until I needed them and now they're everywhere! I managed to get the garden stool/kneeler from Aldi, a place we don't normally shop - so it's worth having a look wherever you go!

One thing I would suggest is that you hang them near to where you garden most. I have mine hung inside the garage door, so they're close and I don't have to carry the far.

Prior to ME, I rarely wore gloves. But I find that even on warm days, my hands (particularly the one not in use) gets very cold. I used to wear builders gloves, because these were all I had, but they're loose fitting and not ideal for gardening tasks. These days I wear leather gloves that are lined on the inside. So not only do they protect me from thorns and prickles, but they also keep my hands nice and warm.

I actually find that because I'm not damaging my hands or allowing them to get cold, I feel closer to my garden. This is probably because while I have the ME pain, my garden isn't inflicting any additional pain on me!

Food and Drink
If you're like me, you're unlikely to have the energy to garden for extended periods. But even when gardening for 10 minutes, it can be handy to take out some food and a drink - perhaps a couple of biscuits and a cup of tea. Then you can remain seated on your stool and enjoy the garden and feel good about the work you've just done. This can be a good chance to reflect on how the garden is coming along and what tasks will need to be done in the future.

I'm going to talk about tools in a future post, but I just wanted to mention that choosing the correct tool is important for comfort. I can't use a full size fork and spade, but instead I finally use the hand tools I bought nearly a decade ago because they looked useful, but never used! The ones I use have big plastic or foam handles so they don't pull heat away from my hands and they are easy to grip and feel nice. 

These are just a few ideas based on the things that help me do a bit of gardening. Hopefully they will help you find tools and techniques that help you get out in the garden - even if it's just for 5-10 minutes at a time.

This is an update of a post I wrote back in 2012, before my diagnosis. You can read the original here. Next month I'll be writing about SMARTER Gardening.


  1. This is a really helpful post Tim. I've noticed recently that I'm having to be more careful about what I wear when gardening as the cold triggers the ME pain badly. You've clarified for me why and given me some tips on how to get better at dressing for ME and gardening.

    That seating/kneeler is a great idea. I do struggle getting up an down, and there is a lot of getting up and down when gardening. Ironically I had one of those when I was first gardening over 14 years ago, but got rid of it for some reason. I'm going to get one again now. As you say, you can sit on it or kneel on it and it can help you up. Such a good idea. I do already have a kneeling pad which I've been using for years and it is my constant and useful companion, especially keeping the cold/wet off my knees.

    Those gloves look like my Gold Leaf gloves - they are wonderfully snug and worth every penny. As for tools, I have small hands so have been using a Mira trowel (http://www.implementations.co.uk/catalogue/product-details/11/mira-trowel) for years, with a wooden handle, and it makes for much easier gardening. The right tools are important for gardening, but take on added importance when you are gardening with ME. As you say, you want to spend your limited energy gardening, not trying to use the wrong tools or keeping warm.

    A really useful post. Thanks for sharing your ideas Tim.

    1. I'm so glad that you found the post helpful, Julieanne. Well spotted, they are Gold Leaf gloves! The Mira trowel looks amazing - it's wonderful how narrow they've made it and yet it still looks very strong. Thanks for the link.


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