"With age comes wisdom."

Gardeners may be familiar with the quote, but don't know or remember that Oscar Wilde finished his comment with ... "but sometimes age comes alone."

My wisdom has been hard won as a gardener. There are plants that I dearly love --- the Texas bluebonnets of my youth, for example --- that I no longer plant on my patch of ground. I've kept the vision in my mind of those rich blue, lush mass plantings --- because the actual flowers ended up in bunnies' bellies every year I planted them. Now I plant delphiniums and foxgloves that they ignore.

More wisdom:

1. Don't fertilize until you've done a soil test and know what your soil needs.

2. Patience is a virtue, especially when it's a tiny seed in the ground or plant like hardy hibiscus which is slow to return each spring.

3. Don't plant sun-loving plants in the shade or vice versa, and remember plants need water, food and your shadow bent over them.

4. Let friends help grow your garden with cuttings, divisions and pass-along plants. Your garden will mean more if it is planted with fond memories.

5. Save seeds. Drop dried flowers (cleome, poppies, etc.) into a paper bag and shake. Remove the huskings, label and store seeds until the following year.

6. Pace yourself. Divide big projects into smaller ones, and don't be afraid to ask for help.

7. Always wear garden gloves.

As for age, I no longer kneel in my garden because the knees just can't take it. Instead I sit on one hip or the other on an old rug that I drag along as I plant or weed.

Bending, stretching, lifting, squatting --- you don't need a gym if you've got a garden. Think about it. Lugging bags of mulch, lifting heavy pots filled with potting soil, raking and hoeing, pulling weeds, digging holes and planting, pruning shrubs and trees, hauling bricks and patio pavers, pushing or pulling a loaded wheelbarrow or wagon can really kick your badonkadonk. You can burn up to 300 calories an hour in the garden, some experts claim.

Get into better shape before tackling those monster projects this spring and summer. These are the ones I like to use:

1. Warm up with simple stretches.

2. Do counter pushups. Grip the kitchen counter with hands shoulder-width apart. Keep back straight and abdomen tight as you bend your arms and lean forward toward the counter in a pushup. Repeat 10 times. I use a push-reel mower, and this really helps build arm strength and stamina.

3. Use a dumbbell or improvised weight (a pair of fulled water buckets or cans are handy) to practice deadlifting. Keep your back straight (arching can make your back sore), squat and lift. Improperly lifting bags of mulch or soil can hurt your legs and back. As your strength builds, you can toss a bag of mulch onto a shoulder in a fireman's carry and easily move it from the staging area to a bed or border.

4. Use your hand pruner to strengthen your grip. Or lift a weight in each hand to strength grip and build arms for carrying heavy buckets and hoses.

5. Use a wagon or wheelbarrow for really heavy stuff.

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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