Groundwork: from Z to A

I’M TAKING my time preparing the patch at the end of the garden that I’m hoping to transform into a wild flower meadow. It’s in such an unkempt state because this is the corner that gets used for sorting, shredding and on a couple of occasions burning the debris from trimming hedges, replacing fences and clearing the pond.

Rich disturbed soil like this makes an ideal habitat for a wild flower that I introduced year ago and have often wished that I hadn’t; Chicory. The flowers and the bitter-tasting foliage of this tall, blue-flowered relative of daisies and sunflowers have been eaten in salads and an extract of the roots (and some suggest the seeds too) has been used as a substitute for coffee.

But I’d like our mini-meadow to be diverse rather than being dominated by one plant, however useful it may be, so I’m gradually forking over the area, removing every fragment of root I can spot. This has amounted to four bagfuls of the vermicelli-like ‘roots’. Perhaps I should be turning them into coffee.

After a couple of hours weeding I realise that I need to improve my posture. This is how I picture myself when I’m digging; I feel as if I’m putting a lot of unnecessary strain on my lower back.

A sketch from a photograph that a friend took of me using an edging tool to cut turves on Monday (right) shows that I need to bend even more when I’m using a garden tool with a short handle. Most handles are too short for me, so I’m going to start looking out for a fork with an extra long handle.

On Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don characteristically stands with his legs apart and now I can see why; the ground is a long way down and with legs apart you can get that bit nearer.

My habitual action when I’ve been digging and want to pick out a weed or rootlet is to bend over, folding myself up in a Z-shape. I guess that it would probably be better for my legs and arms if I adopted an A-shape, legs apart, trying to keep my legs straight, bending at the waist. This stretches my back, and my legs, rather than putting strain on the joints.

I’ve been trying this and I’m convinced that it’s better for my back but I still find myself automatically adopting the ‘Z’ crouch when I need to pick out a piece of root that I’ve just spotted.

“They always say that you should crouch instead of bend,” says Paul, who has helped us out so much in the garden since the autumn.

I guess that you should work in whatever way you find comfortable and that varying your working position is probably a good idea.

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  1. If you are garden regularly then it really is important to adopt the proper back posture as otherwise continuous strain can cause long term problems. I would say bend your knees as much as possible, or when weeding either sit on a stool or even sit on the floor. There’s no point bending down for a task that is going to take an hour or so to complete.

    1. My favourite solution to the problem is raised beds. Weeding is similar to drawing; I like to be able to get in and see the detail.

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