Even in My 70s, There’s Still Joy in Breaking the Rules Sometimes

Have you ever been so swept away by the anticipation of getting your spring garden planted that you slid down the slippery slope of being overzealous and perhaps just a tad unrealistic about what you can reasonably accomplish in an afternoon?

This is the time of year when we’re most apt to take chances by pushing our bodies beyond what we can safely and comfortably manage. It’s so easy to do when you want nothing more than to be outside in the fresh spring air, working in the garden and reconnecting with the joy of planting.

Here’s my tale of
highs and woes of yes,
yes, yes and more, more, more on one perfect spring afternoon.

Yellow spring flowers

Recently, we had a break from the rain we’ve so desperately needed, the sun was shining, and we were under a gorgeous, cloudless blue sky, which meant there wasn’t anything that could keep me from working in the garden that day. 

Did I take my own advice from the book I’ve written and the blog I keep — and warm up and stretch before I ventured out for a day of gardening bliss? No, I did not! Did I put on my back brace to remind myself not to do anything that would cause my back to hurt? I must admit to you, the answer was no.

Toni Gattone working in her garden in early spring.

Instead, I joyfully threw
caution to the wind by 
gardening with gusto for more than five hours. 

What was I thinking?

Having just celebrated my 73rd birthday, you’d think this modern elder and adaptive gardening “expert” would have had the wisdom to know better than to garden with abandon for the entire afternoon. All of my work is centered around gardening smart, safe, and in ways that prioritize comfort for greater ease and wellbeing. It was obvious I didn’t follow my own darn rules. 

I’m not sure if it was pent up energy from being cooped-up due to the lock-down and the recent rain storms, or if I was just so eager to try out my new gardening endeavor; I was so energized about being in my happy place, that I lost touch with all my gardening smarts.

senior woman, 60 yeas old, with overweight, but enjoying to jump on trampoline in garden, file contains lens flares

You know that giddy feeling you get when you’re
excited to try something new, and how it can
cause temporary lapses of good judgement.
Yeah, that!?!

Last year, during the pandemic when the gardening renaissance wave swept the nation and nursery plant inventory was at an all-time low, I swore to myself this year I would start my garden from seed indoors, for the ultimate gardening experiment. I’d never done this before and I wondered if I could be patient enough to grow from seeds.

To my surprise and delight, it worked! I successfully raised seedlings of lettuces, swiss chard, sweet peppers, golden beets, as well as dill, basil, and chives. What a great reminder that trying new things can pay off and be incredibly gratifying. I couldn’t have been more excited to tenderly transport my babies to their new home, my elevated raised beds, where my kitchen garden is planted.

Strawberries planted in Toni Gattone's spring garden

I was ready to begin planting, or so I thought. I was distracted when I looked over my shoulder to see three hydrangeas I had not yet pruned and that needed to be done pronto. I’m glad I paused to take care of them, but then of course, there were all the weeds that had popped up from the recent rain we’d had, and then of course that garden bed needed to be raked.

When I finally got back to the original task that had beckoned me to the garden in the first place, I was excited to plant the seedlings I’ve been caring for throughout the winter months. And then it happened … 

You know what it’s like when you’re in flow. You’re completely focused on the job at hand.

All you can think about is that tiny plant in front of you, and you totally lose track of time, right?

A couple of times I said to myself BASTA! (Enough!) but I ignored that wise voice in my head! Instead, I worked in the garden for way longer than I usually do. I stood up non-stop for several hours and I bent over way too much, all the while pushing away the thoughts reminding me that I was going to trigger my chronic low back pain. Louder than the thoughts of caution and reason, were the words and tunes to this song:

“She never gives up. She never gives in.
She just changes her mind.”
— Billy Joel

Even still, I was in heaven. I felt happier, calmer, and more at ease than I had in some time. I love being in and interacting with Mother Nature and happily nurturing the plants that will feed Tim and me (and hopefully some family and friends too) in the coming months.

Toni Gattone in her garden sipping tea
At the end of the day, with the tools all cleaned and put away and a final pause to appreciate all the goodness I’d received from a glorious day working my garden, I was eager to focus on a different kind of self-care: body care!

Maybe you’ve had a day in the garden like I had, if so, here are some of my favorite remedies that I use to get past the pain: 

  • Based on my doctors recommendation, I take a combination of Tylenol and Ibuprofen to alleviate the pain — which enables me to walk upright. (It’s a concept, right?)
  • To soothe and loosen my back, I take a very long, hot steamy shower with one of the faucets aimed at my lower back.
  • I apply Awakenings Hands Cream (wish I’d invested in this company) to comfort my hands that always get so dried out, even when I wear gloves.
  • To aid with the healing from an action-packed day in the garden, I practice the 20-20-20+ rule and apply a heating pad for 20 minutes, then I switch over to an ice pack for 20 minutes, and finish with the heat again for 20 minutes. For the last 20 — with the heating pad still on my back, I meditated in my favorite chair feeling the sun streaming in — laughing at myself, sitting there with a huge smile on my face for doing a good day’s work in the garden that was so, so good for my soul.
  • I like ending my good for me and good for my garden work day with one of my favorite self-care remedies:  a cup of honey, citron, and ginger tea, which always helps me feel better — and after a day of breaking my own rules, I added a little whiskey too.

At bedtime, I was definitely feeling it — both the reasons WHY I write about why it’s important to take good care of ourselves while we’re caring for our gardens — and also the satisfaction of following my joy and celebrating the kind of accomplishment that feeds my soul and makes my heart sing. That’s the feeling that makes it all worthwhile, even when I do break my own rules from time-to-time. 

… and yes, I slept like a baby that night.

13 thoughts on “Even in My 70s, There’s Still Joy in Breaking the Rules Sometimes”

  1. Oh boy! I feel ya!! I did the same thing, only it was my knees that gave me grief. It too over a week before I could walk normally again. But it felt soooooo good being out in the garden and breathing in the sweet smell of flowers and soil. I am going to purchase one of those kneeling/sitting gadgets for next time, in the hope that it will keep my knees happier.
    Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

  2. I had a different experience in my garden, spring is nearly done and the heat is setting in so it’s time to put in summer flowers. But instead I am walking around my garden with my walker and my white surgical hose as I recover from meniscus repair surgery for my knee. This is the very first time I haven’t been able to do anything in my garden by myself. It brings an awareness of how I need to pace myself when I am recovered and begin again.

  3. My wife & I sometimes forget this good advice too. Your ’20-20-20 guideline’ is a great practice, especially after a marathon gardening session…one that feel so good in the moment! Your book is a grand inspiration and very timely during these days of home quarantine.

  4. My wife & I second Anita Lewis’ recommendation concerning the restoratitive benefit of a heated mattress pad. Garden aches & pains dissolve with cozy, night time heat. But all pads are not created equal and we’ve tried a bunch. The winner in our book: Sunbeam’s quilted version for about $118 in queen size. At ages 77 and 73, respectively, we also are firm believers in magnesium in its many forms. Again, nights generally are a dream with a two-teaspoon hit of Calm-brand lemon/rashberry magnesium powder just before bedtime. Then, back into the weekend garden at dawn — well, at least by noon.


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