DENVER, Colorado—I recently saw an interview with a fitness expert on the morning news. He stated that gardening had little or no exercise value. I nearly dropped my bowl of Cheerios. “Oh, yeah,” I grumbled at the television, “I’d like to see you come over here and go through what I do every day.”
I suspect that this expert lives in a high-rise or hires someone to maintain his yard. He’s never been exposed to the world of high-impact gardencizing. He’s apparently never dug a bed by hand, hauled countless wheelbarrows of compost to enrich it, and turned the “black gold” into the soil.
He’s never faced spring cleanup, where last year’s growth must be cut to the ground and hauled to the compost pile, where it later must be shredded into smaller pieces for speedier decomposition. He’s never tangled with an ancient lilac or beauty bush that needs radical pruning or tackled the removal of a huge juniper.
He’s never built a brick patio or laid a flagstone walk. Nor has he faced the threat of an early frost when the entire crop of tomatoes, basil, and eggplant must be harvested in one cold afternoon. And he’s obviously never shopped with a real gardener, hauling home flats and gallons of plants, stacks of lumber, bags of soil, and clay pots and cinder blocks and a hundred other things that we constantly need.
My daily exercise regime starts when I check my list from the night before. I’m a list maker, and I derive great satisfaction from scratching items off as they’re completed. On any given day, the chores involve watering, weeding, and transplanting, all of which involve lifting, walking, stretching, and grunting. Add chasing cats that are digging in my garden, and my workout includes sprinting and cussing. These are all things that nongardeners pay to do in a health club (except for the cat chasing, which only very exclusive fitness spas offer). The only difference is that I do not wear spandex while I do my exercises, for which visitors should count themselves fortunate.
My workout is definitely high impact, and I have the body to prove it. I have the calf muscles of a soccer player, the neck of a linebacker, the stomach of a sumo wrestler, and the back of a man twice my age. It has occasionally occurred to me that if I weren’t subjecting my body to the stresses and strains of gardening, I wouldn’t need to grow all these herbs to keep me going. The great irony of my life is that while I loathe physical exertion, I revel in what it can accomplish. I’m in a long-term rehab program for my back, and I go twice a week to do more of what I hate—lift weights.
It is this time of year that makes me grateful that my back can still support me. The days are hot, but clouds invariably form in the afternoon even if the promise of rain isn’t always fulfilled. There’s much less to do in late summer compared to the frenzy of spring or the perennial and bulb planting that I’m preparing for in a few weeks. In the meantime, I savor the fruits of my labors. There’s yellow squash, sautéed with onions, parsley, and ‘Red Rubin’ basil. Fresh tomatoes are always on the menu, sliced and sprinkled with chives and drenched in balsamic vinegar. Tuna fish becomes a gourmet delight with the addition of dill, chopped tomatoes, and a pinch of lemon thyme. I can’t get enough of fresh-brewed iced tea flavored with mint or lemongrass. If I had a hammock, I’d get in it.
We work the entire year just to get to this moment in the garden. It takes sweat, muscle, and endurance. We can relax a bit for a few weeks and watch the summer begin to wind down, but gardeners don’t sit still for very long. Soon it will be time for more chopping, pulling, hauling, and digging.