Winter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of urgency to get on with gardening jobs, before the weather turns cold. I’m always rushing around. There’s tender plants to bring under cover, pots to plant and bulbs to sort out. There’s never enough time to do everything. However, gardening tasks can end in accidents causing painful injuries. Here’s a reminder to take extra care this autumn and winter when working in the garden.
We were all shocked to hear news that Tamsin Westhorpe had suffered a fractured spine in a recent gardening accident. Tamsin is a writer, and editor and works as a gardener at her family’s farm, Stockton Bury Gardens, in Herefordshire. I wrote about Tamsin last year when she published her country diary book. Here’s a link: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/
I asked Tamsin to tell me what happened when she had her accident in the garden, and here’s what she said:
It was a sunny Saturday at the start of September. I had a rare day off from work, so I was determined to make a mark on my much-ignored home plot. My day job is to help my uncles garden their four-acre open garden, so my plot gets pushed to the back of the priority list.
What task were you doing when the accident happened?
I have a row of six aronia trees that I like to keep to a manageable height of about 9ft. My aim was to remove the very enthusiastic young growth and give them a neater shape. To reach the centre branches I needed a ladder. In my haste a grabbed a lightweight A frame ladder and headed down the garden armed with enthusiasm and secateurs. I was on a mission to get as much done in a day as possible.
Describe what happened next.
Standing on one of the top steps I simply leant forward to reach a central branch and the ladder went from under me. It happened so quickly, and I found myself flat on my back on the lawn in agony.
What were your first thoughts?
My first thoughts were for the garden. Who would lift my dahlias and plant the tulips? Being part of a small family business, I was concerned how the other members of the family would be impacted. Physical fitness is essential for my work.
My second thought was that I’d been a complete idiot and should’ve waited for someone to hold the ladder. To say I was cross with myself was an understatement.
How did you get help?
My garden is in a rural location and not looked over by any other houses. I shouted but no one came as my family were out. I know only too well that you shouldn’t try and move if you have an accident, but I was struggling to breath, so somehow struggled to the house to get my phone. How long this took and how I can’t recall.
What were your injuries?
My spine has a stable fracture and I cut the back of my leg quite badly. However, I have been incredibly lucky. I’m so thankful that my spinal cord wasn’t damaged, and I didn’t hit my head. As far as I’m concerned, I have had a very lucky escape.
When working from a ladder in future I’m going to ensure that the pots and tools are placed well out of the way and I always have a friend or family at the foot of the ladder.
How long will your recovery take?
All being well I will make a full recovery in about 12 weeks. I should be able to plant my own tulips this year! For now, I’m not lifting anything and I’m focusing on doing all the right things to speed up my return to the garden. I’ve already seen the impact of trying to rush things so I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.
Anything happened like this before?
I’ve been gardening since the age of 16, spending time as a parks gardener, greenkeeper and interior landscaper. In all those years I have only succumbed to one nasty incident with a pair of secateurs (again caused by trying to rush a job) and a few splinters. So, all in all I’ve been lucky and don’t see gardening as a dangerous hobby – far from it in fact. Gardening has kept me physically fit for decades. I’m the only danger! By being impatient and trying to garden at speed I’ve caused this accident to happen and only have myself to blame.
Having said all that I think my steel toe capped boots have saved my toes on many occasions.
How do you feel now, mentally and physically?
I am feeling better by the day and although I can’t do anything for long, I’m seeing improvements in my physical heath. A gardening friend suggested I put comfrey oil on my back to help with the healing process. I have no idea if it is working but I love the idea of a plant being involved in my recovery.
Having not experienced an accident of this nature before I was surprised at how much shock has an impact on your mental wellbeing. It’s been difficult having to scratch out events in my diary, but I have the good fortune that I will recover. The messages from fellow gardeners have been a great help and I’ve been thrilled to hear from many who say they now won’t go up a ladder without an ‘assistant’. I’m glad that my accident might prevent others from having a similar experience.
This time has made me feel such concern for those who won’t recover from an accident or can’t tend their garden due to old age. I can only imagine how frustrating and devastating this must be. I’ve also experienced the healing power of nature. Thanks to a wonderfully warm September I have been able to recover under a blue sky outside. Watching the birds and insects flutter around me has been just the best medicine. It’s given me time to realise how important gardening is to me and my health.
What advice would you give other gardeners?
Invest in a proper gardening ladder for one. Secondly never use power tools and climb ladders when on your own in the garden. Thirdly keep your mobile phone in your pocket but put it on silent so your gardening time is undisturbed. But, the most important thing is to never rush gardening – sip it like a good glass of wine and savour every moment. It’s not a race.
Update: Tamsin has made a good recovery, and is now back at Stockton Bury making a start on light gardening duties.
Here’s some photos of Stockton Bury taken when I visited the garden this summer.
Have you any experiences to share involving injuries while gardening? Please share any advice and suggestions.
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