“I work on it early in the morning when my leg strength is at its best”

This week, it’s National Gardening Week. Louise hasn’t let her multiple sclerosis dampen her love for gardening. Instead, she’s made adjustments to continue growing a selection of fruit and vegetables. Here, Louise shares her tips on how she manages her garden with mobility challenges with some methods you can adopt, too.

‘Don’t stop me now’.  That is me speaking to my multiple sclerosis (MS), in relation to my passion for gardening, nature and the outdoors.

When I was diagnosed with MS about seven years ago, I was determined to spend as much time as I could outdoors, despite my diminishing walking ability and muscle strength. I have a third of an acre, which I manage with labour-saving layouts and structures, timing strategies, and help with heavy tasks.

My space

The front garden consists of flower and shrub beds with gravel and moss paths in between to eliminate having to lug or pull a lawn mower round to it. There is lawn in the rear garden which is mown from March to early summer then allowed flower, with what are usually regarded as weeds, for pollinators and to encourage wildlife. The trend to let part of your garden ‘re-wild’ is beneficial to nature and less effort.

My plan

The vegetable and herb garden is structured in raised beds which I cultivate using the ‘no-dig method.’ I work on it early in the morning when my leg strength is at its best and before the sun makes me feel dizzy or saps my energy. If this happens, I go into the shade or indoors, leaving everything where it is, and I usually recover by late afternoon when I return to do light jobs or water if needed.

The good life

It’s rather like a Mediterranean lifestyle, rising early to work outside, taking a long midday siesta and returning later in the day. I fill plastic milk containers with water or liquid fertilizer and leave them dotted around at various points in the garden so water is at hand. This eliminates having to carry heavy watering cans and buckets or walking back and forth to turn hose pipes on and off.

Rainbow diet

Beyond the lawn and vegetable garden I have an orchard of cherry trees where I have an apiary and chickens. I have a newly erected polytunnel with staging along one side so I can potter along in there with something to hold onto, plus a couple of chairs I can use for rest when needed. I am growing plenty of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines for the ‘eat a rainbow’ diet advised for a healthy immune system.

Nitrogen cycle

By the back door I grow herbs and salad leaves, all the year round, in pots and troughs so I can just snip off a few leaves, as needed, without having to walk far. It is where I also have a flip-top compost bin for the easy disposal of vegetable food waste, coffee grounds and paper. Quantities of organic matter are essential for no-dig cultivation.

MS benefits

Besides produce and flowers, a garden yields many benefits for health and mental wellbeing.  Our immune systems require plenty of Vitamin D from sunlight and our circulation and breathing improves with fresh air and being amidst plants. Functional exercise, taught in MS exercise and Pilates classes, can be applied to the movements required for gardening tasks and, as such, help to strengthen muscles and improve neurological pathways.

My MS does mean that, at times, I do not have the strength or energy to work in the garden, but this gives me the opportunity to just stop and stare at the wonders of nature, reminding me of the poem titled Leisure by William Henry Davis which begins like this…

‘What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.’