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The Guilty Gardener

Blog Photo - Garden - Rose

I love gardening.

But for a smart person, I can be really stupid. 


A pain-filled fall and winter got worse as we headed toward spring: the few times I went out, I caught something.



A cough that wouldn’t end.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Worn out and afraid of falling, I rarely even went into the garden.

Stuck in bed, I tried to write my way back to sanity and health.

Spring came.

Blog Photo - Garden - Roses in Boxwood Garden

And then.

“You’ve relapsed,”  the specialist said flatly during my hospital visit.

“Guilty,” I replied. “Sorry.”

“Do NOT feel guilty,” she answered.  “It was an awful winter. All my patients with complex injuries had a very tough time.”

“But your immune system is also weak,” she warned.  “Be very careful this spring.”

I listened.

I promised.

And I was. Blog Photo - Garden - Working in Garden1And then.

It was gardening season.

Day after day, my husband worked hard in the garden.

I watched, feeling entirely useless.

He left, on an errand.

Blog Photo - Garden - working in Garden 2And then.

I spied a large crop of forget-me-not growing into the lawn from the garden beds.  I know they bug him, and I know they’re easy to dig with a trowel. And so I thought I’d help.

A small thing.

A good thing.

I could do this. Blog Photo - Garden FMN straying into lawn I crouched over the lawn and started digging, feeling useful. When the back and leg pain intensified, I lay on my front, face just above the grass.

I dug, sneezing as dust went into my nose.

Then I spied a few dandelions nearby. Now I crouched over them, trowel engaged.

“Stop!” said my wiser self.

I listened.

I meant to.

In just a few seconds. Blog Photo - Garden - Butterfly on Mint

And then.

My sense of time did not kick in. It rarely does.

When I got up, the pain almost knocked me out. I staggered. Stumbled. Fought against falling, my cane desperately trying to find purchase in the ground.

“Cynthia! Cynthia!” came the panicked shout.

I had not heard my husband return.

Blog Photo - Garden in late Spring I ask you: which is worse?

To watch your partner struggle to do the gardening duties that you loved doing — on top of everything else on his plate? Or risk even worse pain — and his distress — by doing a few small gardening things to help? Blog Photo - Garden - working in garden 3 Blog Photo - Garden compost bags Some days, I’m almost used to the pain. It’s with me all the bloody time.

But the guilt? I never get used to the guilt of watching him do all the gardening work. It drives me nuts.

“Why do you do this?”  He shook his head, frustrated and angry. “You know better!”

Yes I do.  Blog Photo - Garden in shadows

So I’m obeying the doctor. Again.

Sparing my husband distress. Again.

Trying to cope with guilt. Again.

All stuff that requires a person to be not just smart, but wise.

So far, so good.

Wish me luck.


Dedicated to all gardeners who are struggling due to age, illness or pain. And to the caring people who help us: thank you.

53 thoughts on “The Guilty Gardener”

  1. I am sorry to read this Cynthia, you are fortunate to have the support of your husband though, I hope things improve, take care.

  2. Hi Cynthia,
    I’m sorry that you are having so much pain and challenge. And glad that you are starting to listen, and have the support of your husband. Please take care of yourself. I enjoy your writing and posts. blessings, Brad

    1. Thank you, Brad.
      Jamaicans have a saying: “Who can’t hear must feeeel!” So I probably needed that incident to start listening again. I am really blessed with wonderful doctors, therapists and family and I just have to do my part.

      Bless you.

  3. Ah you naughty lady. If you make yourself ill you will be far more guilty about it than you ever have been about watching your husband do stuff without helping him. Try to be gentle and forgiving to your body, even when it’s being a pain in the arse. Yeh right, easy for me to say! 😉

    You sound very similar to my Mum. She got a bollocking from the heart specialist because she was planning to go home and plant some potatoes. “You really can’t do that,” he said. So she went and weeded one of the flowerbeds, which was far more work than putting the spuds in would ever have been. When I suggested that might have been a bit gung ho she said, “I was following the wretched Doctor’s orders wasn’t I? I didn’t plant the spuds.”

    Methinks that scenario may sound familiar, if not you then to your husband, perhaps. 😉

    I know it’s hard and I am in awe of fortitude and patience with which you handle the pain but please look after yourself. None of us want to see you ill.

    Take care you and go… well… a little easier on the gardening.



    1. Gosh, you made me laugh. What a spunky woman, your mother!

      I’m also greatly relieved by your reply. A few weeks ago (I think) you said you thought I was grounded or wise or some such thing, and I felt like a fraud, because this incident had recently happened.

      But instead, you tell me a story about your mother that made me laugh out loud.

      Thanks, MT. I am behaving myself much better these days. Not sure how long it will last, but I sure am trying. Hope things are going well for your new books. So proud for you.

      1. Bless you thanks. Glad it cheered you up. At least you know you’re not alone now. Thanks re the books, too. They will need a tidy up edit at some stage, or at least a proof read but yeh, I’m pleased to have finished them.



  4. Though I don’t know for sure I think that the guilt you feel would be considered normal. I fell out of a tree at 14 and shattered my spine and I’ve had times in my life when I couldn’t even dress myself. I felt guilty too, watching my wife and kids doing what I should have been doing, so you’re not alone. One day at a time is all we can do.

    1. How wise of you.

      Thank you for stressing how normal this is after a debilitating illness or accident (or simply through aging).
      Two days ago, I was reminded of this in the case of a young couple I know – the denial and anger on the one hand, and the guilt on the other.
      Hearing about that couple that’s struggling after the wife’s accident encouraged me to take these notes out of my journal and make them into a blog post. they may never read it, but someone else will.

      Thanks again,

  5. Oh, bless your heart. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a difficult time of it. Get rid of the guilt though. It won’t help or change anything. Just be grateful
    for the blessings that come your way and for a sweet husband who is willing to help do the work you can’t this time around. Love and hugs, N 🙂

    1. Thank you, Natalie. The weird thing is that I know this in my HEAD. But then my emotions take over, and … I’m a danger to myself. But I’m trying, and am enormously grateful for my husband and family. I’m going to learn the art of closing my eyes when he’s in the garden.

  6. Cynthia, how I understand your predicament. The number of times I was told off by husband or son after a broken ankle 3 years ago because I, too, decided to “help”.
    Patience is a great virtue which I was poorly endowed with but I hope you can take your time getting back to health.
    I love your dedication to gardeners – a lovely post.

  7. Yikes, this is a hard one. I think learning to close your eyes (preferably when you are sitting down) whilst your husband is working in the garden would be a good idea. Do you have raised garden beds anywhere in your garden? Mine have a little ledge on them where I can sit and dig if I wish to. Very satisfying 🙂 .

    1. Funny you should mention the raised garden beds. I had great fun planting some annuals in pots on ledges on either side of our steps. My husband filled them with potting soil, and off I went. It was great fun. I know that’s why many injured or elderly people end up making container gardens. Not the same at all, but it helps!

  8. Words we seem to have forgotten in our instant world; “convalescence” and “recuperation”. Wait and enjoy the hours without lifting up the burden if guilt. Heal through your pen. 😉

  9. I will think about you every time I attempt to do something I’m not supposed to do in the garden either… (Had an injury last winter–not fun!!!) The only upside (and I really had to look hard to find one)–I’m involving my daughter and my husband into the home & garden work & I think (not sure) they might understand a little better all the stuff I’ve been doing around here. 😉 Please take the time you need (& try not to feel bad about it!!!) 🙂

      1. I am halfway through your book. Cynthia, it’s a wonderful and wonderfully written story. Reading deepens the strong connection that I feel to you.

      2. Well, Aggie, you almost brought tears to my eyes!
        But thank you, anyway (smile).

        I am SO glad you’re enjoying the book.
        I hope you also glimpse reasons why I’m rooting so hard for you and Lou and the farm.

      3. So far, I see that you and I share some real similarities. The simple people who I grew up with were immigrants from southern Europe at the turn of the 20th century, and their children and grandchildren. I too loved learning, and ended up in an urban area. I too got a place in the country… Also, I ran hundreds of miles with a young man from Jamaica. His buoyant friendliness touched many a sophisticated urban soul. I can see from your description how he emanated the Jamaican spirit. Hugs.

  10. Sometimes we push ourselves too hard. I’ve been known to do that, just in different ways. It is frustrating to see people having to take care of the things we were once able to do, whether it’s a physical thing or a mental thing. Still hard. Hard to listen to people telling you to take it easy. This post really made me tear up a little, but at least I know I’m not the only one struggling with these things.

    1. You’re absolutely not the only one struggling with these things, Rosa. I wrote this weeks ago in my journal right after it happened, never planning to post it. I did so now mainly because I heard about a young couple I know who are going through quite similar experiences after a car accident.They’re both suffering in different ways right now. And it’s a story I heard over and over during my therapy program.

      It is indeed tough to lose even some of our independence, tough to have to rely on others. But in the end, we learn to do so, and find a way to deal with the impatience and guilt. It may even make our loved ones stronger, not just us.

      Take care. I look forward to your blog posts.

  11. Hi Cynthia. I’m sorry to hear of these struggles. The good news I am hearing is that you have a wonderful, diligent, caring mate. And now I understand the posts about his passion, vegetables. I hope you’re fully back in action soon, my flower farmer friend!

    1. Thank you, my friend.

      And though I make fun of our flowers-versus vegetables war, he’s had to learn a lot about flowers.
      Blessings abound. I’m behaving myself.

      But don’t worry, I’ll be back to making fun of myself (and my fellow gardener) very soon.

  12. First of all, I’m wishing you a complete and thorough recovery! Second, I’m still amazed at what a beautiful space you’ve created. Truly. Third, are you a reader? You need a few good books, some tea and a quiet project to take your mind off of the other chores . . . I know the feeling!

    1. Thanks, Kay.
      I figured you’d know the feeling.
      Funny, I was just thinking: I’m going to sit on the verandah but NOT look at the stuff that needs doing, and I’m going to have a cuppa and read a book. And here comes your note. which proves that one of us has magical powers!

  13. Oh Cynthia, you poor love! I sympathise with all my heart. It is so hard to be good and sensible and the joy of helping and gardening is so great. You will have to discuss with your dear husband the things that you could do at certain times and the length of time you will be able to do these things. Of course you will have to wait until your health is stable. The annoying thing is that the relaxation and pleasure you will get from a little gardening will help to make you better (pheramones etc). I remember reading Virginia Woolfs diaries and how frustrated she was when she had been ill and her husband did all the work in their printing press and wouldn’t let her go to London to see her friends. Because he loved her and it was for the best!
    I have bought your book too as well as Aggie! It arrived in the post today and even though I am half way through another book I found I had started yours without realising and I am enjoying it so much! It is unputdownable!

  14. Thanks so much, Claire. I miss gardening SO much! I love the feel of my fingers in the dirt, and dividing things and moving things around. It’s a kind of meditation for me, greatly relaxing and rewarding too. And I have learned that I can’t do it as I used to, but sometimes I slip up and underestimate. Reading your reponse makes me think I should also get a stop-watch so when I do try to do some small thing again, I will know when to stop. But of course, I’m getting ahead of myself – as usual.

    Can’t thank you enough for buying my book. I was with friends today who are still laughing about the brassiere incident (that “over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder” has become world-famous, I’m afraid.)
    Be well.

    1. I’ve been thinking about this which is why I’ve taken so long to reply. There must be some way you can (eventually) get your hands in the dirt and rest at the same time. Gallivanta’s raised beds is a good possibility. You’ll have to aim for a sort of halfway house – I mean gardening without lifting, kneeling, getting down to ground level etc. I think you should aim for it and plan for it, for as you say, gardening is so therapeutic. A feeling of mental well-being must be a good starting point for physical well-being. You may have to re-design a part of your lovely garden so that beds and planting is accessible. Or have flower beds on a sort of table like alpine and cactus beds in greenhouses. I really don’t know what would be possible or what you and your husband would like but there might be a gardening future for you.

      1. You’re so right, Clare. There ought to be a way.

        I’ve done some container gardening in the last few years. I even planted Hosta in pots one year, but most are annuals. It’s great to see them do well in those pots, but a ‘serious gardener’ knows that it does not make up for getting one’s hands dirty in the garden!

        As each summer wears on, I get better at “acceptance” again. But it takes a lot of self-talk and willpower to get there. Earlier in the season, when there’s so much gardening to be done, is tougher.

        I’m sure I was a farmer in a previous life – I just lvoe planting stuff, mucking about in the soil, and watching things grow.

        Thanks for thinking about this challenge, Clare. I appreciate it.

  15. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    A wonderful post by Cynthia Reyes – I watched my mother as she had to sit on the sidelines whilst her weekly gardener and I tended her pots and small little patch of grass. After two hip ops she could still be found in the back garden without her stick dead-heading her pansies and tripping not so lightly across the crazy paving – it is indeed hard to be patient when you are prevented from doing something you love.

  16. good evening Cynthia, thank you for visiting my site! I linked to your site today from another blog, can’t remember where but I was looking for gardening blogs. You have a beautiful home and lovely gardens. Be patient, be mindful to rest until your health is better. The garden will be there when you are ready.

  17. Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. I can very well imagine the frustration of not being able to get up into the garden. I don’t think I would handle it very well.

    1. It’s a learned behaviour. That is, you have to learn it every single gardening season… all over again.
      Thanks for your good wishes. I appreciate them. Meantime, do some gardening for me! Please.

  18. Cynthia – would you be well enough for me to come and fetch you for a couple of hours in the country and happily, lunch if you would like it – or afternoon tea? The weather is so glorious and since I know you love my garden you could see how beautiful it looks right now. And I have 25 new chicks!

  19. Oh, I do wish you luck. Way back I gave up making large sculptures because of persistent pain from a back injury (my own fault). I was lucky, my new career meant I rarely relapsed and my back and elbows grew strong again… but when I garden I never know when to stop. I make brick paths and lift paving slabs, and I persistently ignore the warning tweaks. I wish you guilt-free enjoyment of the beauty of your garden.

    1. I think my husband knows that about me too — not knowing when to stop gardening! It is that kind of hobby. I loved doing all the work – even lifting large rocks to build a stone wall, but that was in a previous life!

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