Book review: The Wellness Garden by Shawna Coronado.

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Shawna Coronado – The Wellness Garden (2017, Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Minnesota)

I actually wrote an article about this topic for Herb Quarterly magazine this year (“Designing a Wellness Garden,” Fall 2017), but of course, my measly two thousand words doesn’t even come close to encapsulating all of the immense detail and information Shawna Coronado has gathered for her book The Wellness Garden: Grow, Eat, and Walk Your Way to Better Health. I hugely enjoyed researching what are sometimes termed “welltality” gardens for my article – there are many facets to these types of designs, where healing, rejuvenation, and healthy maintenance of the whole body and mind is emphasized.

Shawna Coronado’s fight against her own chronic illness and pain was the inspiration behind The Wellness Garden; despite suffering from osteoarthritis, she didn’t stop gardening when the pain became too much.  She realized the benefits of being outdoors, of keeping active, and of tending and harvesting her own healthy food crops – and the point of her book is to encourage others to turn to (or keep on!) gardening as a way to cope and heal and stay fit and focused (and more positive!) in the face of illnesses such as arthritis and depression.  Gorgeously presented, thorough (and thoughtful) research, and meaningful, practical solutions make The Wellness Garden a stand-out: Coronado covers everything from fragrance/sensory and therapeutic garden designs, to selecting and growing nutrient- and vitamin-packed edibles (including tips for composting and boosting soil health), and choosing and using ergonomic, safe, and appropriate garden tools that don’t stress the body.  The second part of the book is specifically devoted to fitness: walking outdoors, and yoga practice (as well as breathing exercises), meant to be undertaken in the garden.  Frequent interaction with nature is key, as there is no doubt about the benefits of being outdoors and the way it elevates mood and well-being.  This valuable book will inspire you to get out there and enjoy your garden even more!

*Quarto Publishing generously provided me with a review copy of The Wellness Garden, but as always, my opinions are 100 percent my own.

Book review: Get fit through gardening.

Get Fit Through Gardening:  Advice, Tips, and Tools for Better Health – Jeffrey P. Restuccio (2008, Hatherleigh Press)

Everyone knows that gardening can be a real physical workout:  the vigourous pull of raking, the lift and twist of shovelling, the repetitive motion of weeding, the forceful push of a lawn mower or a wheelbarrow, the hilling of potatoes or the turning of compost – it all makes your body move, sometimes in strange and wonderful ways that you may not be used to.  (I have firsthand experience of that – my spring cleanup this year somehow resulted in a strained hamstring!  I have to ensure that my fall cleanup doesn’t cause the same).  Many articles and guides have been written about how to address the physical nature of gardening without sustaining injury, with tips about stretching before and after performing gardening tasks, using ergonomic tools, creating a more user-friendly garden through design, and so on, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, until now, a book that uses the actual act of gardening itself as a fitness plan.  Forget those Bowflex infomercials  and your old Richard Simmons videotapes!   Jeffrey P. Restuccio shows the reader how to embrace gardening as a workout regimen in and of itself.  Fitness need not be a mere byproduct of your gardening labours any longer:  it can be the end goal.  And why not?

Restuccio starts off by addressing fitness equipment – no rowing machines or dumbbells here, we’re talking long-handled rakes and hoes, and short handled trowels and cultivators, all with proper weighting and length and grippy, comfortable handles.  Restuccio describes types of tools and their specific functions, and offers tips about what to buy and how to properly use/work out with them.  We’re also introduced to the mini-tiller, which some people may or may not use (depending on your opinion regarding no-till gardening) and the rotary push mower.  For all of these tools, there are specific exercises that can be performed:  “The Mini-Tiller Shuffle” is one, with accompanying photos showing a man engaged in the proper, fully extended push-and-pull action of moving the machine.  (We won’t talk about how he isn’t working out in the veggie beds, but rather on the lawn, with the tiller in the “off” position – that’s for his neighbours to speculate about).

By necessity, Restuccio devotes an entire chapter to both static and active stretching exercises and warm-ups, addressing every part of the body, and listing suggested repetitions and hold counts for each.  (There are photos for most of these stretches as well).  Had I performed many of these exercises, I likely would have prevented my hamstring boo-boo earlier this year.  While I may not be cruising around with my yoga pants and my weed-trimmer out on the front drive, I will certainly adhere to the stretching tips.  (And, really, these are good, effective stretches for any type of work, even for sitting at the computer and blogging).  Restuccio also gets into a little tiny bit of anatomy, describing how and why certain exercises work for the body:  don’t worry, though, he doesn’t go into enough detail to make your eyes glaze over.

And then, there is the workout!  Segmented into categories based on equipment use, and illustrated with photos, we have everything from the “Classic Lunge and Weed” (in which you use a short-handled weeder and the fairly common forward lunge movement, well-known to runners and most people who ever suffered through, I mean, set foot in a gym class) and “The Lawnmower In and Out” (a variation of the bench press I’ll bet you have never ever considered before) to an ergonomic take on “Digging” that incorporates very proper squats and lateral movement (without wrenching your back).  And who knew that aerating the lawn worked your triceps, or that digging post-holes could be so effective, employing your hamstrings, quadriceps, triceps, glutes, and the abdominals?  In all seriousness, I believe that many people who garden don’t really think about the types of movements they perform (or which muscles they engage) while enjoying their favourite job or pasttime, and this book quite successfully illustrates the proper form and execution of the exercises it promotes.  I don’t know that I would deliberately use garden tools in place of hand weights and I don’t think that I will be spending any extra time with the lawnmower in “rowing” practice, but this book is a good, solid fitness and health resource and the skills and knowledge gleaned from it can be easily transferred into everyday living – outside or inside the garden.

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Check out this You Tube link for a stretching video to accompany Restuccio’s book:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDS-To5OBQM.    (It’s kind of rapid-fire, offering a very quick look at several different exercises.  I’d take them down a whole lot of notches if performing them myself).

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