I have done all of these dumb things. I’ve hurt my back, cut my hand, dinged my head, scraped my shins and generally given myself a beating. For a vaguely sentient being, I surprise even myself at my ability to make stupid decisions that result in injury while I’m gardening. Fortunately they’ve never involved succumbing to tetanus as well, but I’m sure it’s only the good immunity I have from vaccination to thank for that.
So here is my guide about how to NOT make the same dumb decisions, and hopefully you’ll be able to prevent blood on the garden beds and to keep yourself out of emergency areas, doctor’s waiting rooms and physiotherapy beds.
1. If you think you’ve picked up something that’s too heavy just drop it, as saving it might send you broke.
A few weeks ago, we were picking up new turf rolls to re-lay a lawn beside the driveway. We choose one of the more expensive turf types called ‘Sir Walter’ buffalo (St Augustine grass), which costs a premium $12.50 per square metre (that’s 11 square feet). Just before we went to collect it, it rained. That seemed like A Good Thing for making the ground moist but what else it did was wet the turf rolls, increasing their weight by about 50%.
As I picked one up and turned around to put it in our trailer, I realised I was going to have to lean right over the trailer wheel guard to stack it carefully next to the last one. As I picked it up I thought, ‘wow, this is heavy’, and as I turned and leaned over I thought ‘oh, oh this might be a mistake’. So did I drop the bloody turf roll, worth $12.50? No, my decision-making paradigm decided that it was better to preserve the turf roll at all costs. PING! went discs L4 and 5. So instead of paying another $12.50 to replace a dropped turf roll, I’ve so far paid a physio over $150 to help ease the pain and get me moving again. Doh!
2. Don’t leave garden rakes on the ground with the tines pointing UPWARDS
You know how there’s that comic book moment when you do something so, so stupid that you can see the whole scene slotting neatly into a banana peel-slipping, Adam Sandler kind of movie? During last summer I used a rake to pull out a whole lot of trad (wandering jew) weed – the heavy duty sort of rake with stiff, nail-like tines. As it was a hot day I built up quite a thirst. I threw the rake down in the mess of weeds to go inside and get a drink of water. Came back outside and THWACK! trod straight onto the rake tines, causing the handle to arc through the air and smack me fair in the middle of my forehead. Although it hurt like hell, my first thought was “OMG how embarrassing, did anyone see that?”
3. Don’t hold tightly in one hand the bunch of foliage you’re quickly cutting into with sharp secateurs
OK so I’ve only cut myself a teeny bit doing this, nicking the tip of my left forefinger. But I know someone (yes, you Gordon) who nearly cut off his whole finger doing it. When you’re pruning a bushy plant, it seems easiest if you grab a bunch of foliage with one hand and chop into it quickly with secateurs. Of course, you can’t see where your holding hand is among all the foliage, but there you go, chop, chop, chop and….YOW! suddenly there’s blood everywhere. Someone suggested to me that thick gloves would prevent this but I suspect not. Unless it’s a butcher’s Bettcher glove.
4. Don’t try and step further than your legs can actually stretch.
While we were rebuilding the stairs down from our deck, we made some makeshift steps out of a few old retaining wall blocks. They weren’t too bad but a bit rickety and a bit of a nuisance to navigate so one day I decided it would just be faster to try and get up to the deck by taking one giant stride up to the lower level. I’m pretty tall, so I figured I could just reach it. Out and up went my foot, and I lunged forwards, fully expecting to end up on the deck… rather than wheeling my arms frantically about trying to get my balance and then falling backwards CRASH into the garden below. It really was quite comical but the back of the hand and shin I grazed on the concrete block during my flailing descent still carry the scar. And you should have seen the plants I landed on! (This photo is my dramatic re-enactment).
5. Don’t use pointy sticks as plant supports without putting something over the top ends.
I don’t have a lot of perennials but inevitably there’s a couple that like to flop about in an annoyingly disobedient manner. So what better way to keep them more upright and soldier-like than to use 600mm-long (2 foot) bamboo sticks and tie them up with twist ties? The trouble is, if you use that length of bamboo stake, after you’ve pushed it into the soil, it sits at about knee height. And its small top end becomes almost invisible against a background of mulch. That’s what I discovered when I bent over a plant to see why it wasn’t growing the way I wanted. SCRAPE went the stick, just missing my right eye as it slid along my temple. Can you see it in the photo?
6. Don’t forget before you pick up the day’s prunings, without gloves, that you also pruned the bougainvillea. Or rose. Or anything else with thorns.
I had been busily pruning lots of shrubs and had quite a pile on the driveway for the chipper. Down I went to grab up a big bundle of lilly pilly and westringia (I thought) and OW! went a big bougainvillea thorn, straight into my palm. Oh yes, that’s right, I cut ONE water shoot off the bougainvillea and stupidly threw it into the same pile.
So that’s my tale of gardening stupidity. And have I learned from my mistakes? As Peter Cooke said to Dudley Moore:
“I think I have, yes, and I think I can probably repeat them almost perfectly. I know my mistakes inside out.”