Sit! Watch! Listen!

See my garden grow!

Hear the earth give way at last

As greenery's head doth show.

Long cold days, dark nights prevail

Til sun doth give command,

"Up ye merry lads at last!

For spring is here, and winter's past"

And life begins anew!

Years ago, when my daughter Mary Eileen read my "great" literary attempt above, she laughed and said, "Oh, Mom!" I guess that should have put a stop to my poetic leanings and sent me into the garden. Gardening not only improves my landscape but also the "scope" of my weight and fitness.

My poem actually has some very good advice for those of us who are reaching "maturity."

Sit and plan your garden for your capability of energy and strength, consulting your doctor as necessary for your health status. Then determine what you want to accomplish. Whatever you choose to spend the time doing, make sure that your muscles are warmed up and ready to work.

Stretch and ease into the activity before beginning. One of the biggest mistakes many gardeners make is the failure to stretch before and after the exercise of gardening. This might result in disappointment, soreness and possible injury. A proper warm-up with a few stretches will help prevent this from occurring.

When stretching, do not bounce or jerk but move in a slow, controlled manner until you feel a slight resistance, then hold that position for a minimum of 30 seconds. When doing any stretching or exercises, be aware of your breathing and do not hold your breath. Stretching after gardening will also guard against soreness and help prevent loss of flexibility.

Use tools that are suitable for the task and your physical ability. If getting to a kneeling position has become difficult, use a kneeler. And if kneeling is only a memory of the past, get a hoe or weeder to use while standing.

Grow only vegetables or fruits that you want to enjoy eating or giving away. If zucchini becomes a penance, it may be more frustration than pleasure.

Watch: Rest as often as you need or, rather, rest more than what you think you need.

Rest is not only to help catch your breath, but to enjoy what you see. It is amazing the activity that goes on beneath our feet. Tiny insects that work even harder than we are working are busy carrying bundles and moving particles larger than themselves. We can almost see asparagus poking through the earth in response to moisture. And as you watch ... smell. The aroma from growing plants can invigorate and delight your senses.

Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Adjust your activity according to your abilities and response. If a particular activity is extremely difficult or causes discomfort, do not continue the exercise. It is normal to feel fatigued after exercising, but as you gain strength, flexibility and endurance, the fatigue will decrease. Remember to always begin any physical activity with an adequate warm-up.

Listen: The songs of different birds ... the rustle of the robin's wings as it flies past with weeds hanging from his or her beak, busily building a nest for the young ones soon to appear ... breezes swaying the leaves, rumpling and caressing our hair. Occasionally we might even hear raindrops softly splashing on the surface of the growing greenery. Oh, what a wonderful world!

After a summer of working in the garden, there should be a noticeable improvement in our fitness and "scope." Gardening is a great alternative to traditional exercise because it incorporates exercise in an enjoyable activity in our own surroundings.

Research shows that gardening for 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week has significant health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as contributing to healthier bones, muscles and joints. Digging, weeding, trimming shrubs and mowing the lawn can be as effective as other physical exercise activities such as walking, cycling, swimming and aerobics.

Not only does gardening help us physically, but it decreases stress and promotes relaxation. This in itself is worth any effort. Too often we hurry about the routines of our busy lives and do not take time to enjoy just "being." Gardening is an opportunity to get a healthier garden and a healthier mind and body.

Best of all -- we get to enjoy the results of our labor. There is no better taste than that of a ripe tomato or a cucumber picked from the vine growing in our own backyard. The asparagus that is the first to pop through the soil in early spring has no equal from the grocery store. But even greater is the realization that it is not just what we ourselves do to tend the garden. There is a force greater than ourselves -- the power of creation and a creator who cares for every living creature. Yes, we plant and we water, but it is God who gives the growth.

On a recent trip to Aruba, I found the following inscription that says it so very well:

Inscription for a Garden Gate

Pause friend, and read before you enter here. This old stone wall encloses hallowed ground.

Here in a mellowed garden dream away the years steeped in serene, sweet light, and muted sound. Here in tranquility peace abide. For God walks here at cool of evening tide.

Pause, friend, and strip from out your heart all vanity, all bitterness, all hate. Quench for this hour, the fewer of your fears. Then treading softly pass with-in this gate, there, where the ancient trees wait, hushed and dim ... May you find God and walk awhile with Him."

(These gardens are entrusted to the courtesy of the visitors)

Anonymous Inscription from Aruba

Ruth Moriarity is a Generations Advisory member and a former RN