Bad knees foster a new intimacy with my garden

Lying on the ground to weed proves more rewarding than it sounds

Standing tall: Allan gazes up at the highest of the sunflowers. Photograph: Allan Jenkins

By the time you read this I will be in hospital. Or maybe on my way home. Recovering – I hope – from an operation I have been postponing for years. I am from a generation – or at least an inclination – averse to surgery if you can cope with pain.

It’s my fault, an old knee injury from my early 20s that has lain dormant for decades. Then it returned and it’s been insistent. I stopped walking to work, my early morning strolling along the canal. It started messing with my gardening, too – kneeling can feel crucial for weeding and sowing seed.

So here I lie. I postponed the surgery until January when the plot is largely inactive. A good time for a gardener to be inactive, too. I found coping strategies, starting with less heavy digging. I pulled myself up off the ground with a spade. I stand like a scarecrow. And I learned the joy of weeding lying down.

There is something intimate about being at the same height as your seedlings. It comes with a tender feeling, close to cuddling in (a vegetable) bed. You are almost stroking the soil with a hand hoe. Picking persistent weeds, sometimes crops, at eye level, gathering a pile behind, it has been a more equal partnership though perhaps best – or at least easiest – when it is not too wet.

But there is a deeper connection here I feel, too: between me and the soil and seed. Gardening at ground level, alert to minute changes. More giving of myself, offering my services in another way, but with more muddy laundry.

My gardening has been less interventionist. With less call for constant change. Our vegetables and flowers have been sometimes left alone. The plot has been given more of a voice. I learned – I think – to listen. And I learned to appreciate the lesson.

This article was first published on


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27 Hillier St, Sheung Wan

Rue Gerlache 69-A03, 1040 Etterbeek

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