The Fat Girl’s Guide to Gardening
Comfortable, ergonomic tools and accessories for plus-sized women
The most gifted green thumb I know (Photo by Holly Mason)
All the green-thumbed ladies! (All the green-thumbed ladies. . .) Now put your trowels up!
Apologies, readers, as I’m working through a bit of a Beyoncé earworm today. But it’s the perfect time of year to crank up a favorite tune on your iPod and get outside to soak up the blue sky, sunshine and smell of the grass growing right under your feet. For girls with the aforementioned green thumbs (regretfully, I cannot count myself among you, since I can kill even a fake plant in two days or less), the season is also ripe for planting, weeding and all manner of earthy things that make me glad I live in a big-city apartment.
Overweight women sometimes struggle with activities like gardening because of joint problems, discomfort sitting or kneeling on the ground, or challenges lowering themselves down to dirt level and standing back up again without good leverage. And yet, many women appreciate the therapeutic nature of gardening — not to mention being surrounded by colorful blooms and enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of their home-grown labors. As always, we at FGG cringe at the idea of putting off the things we love because of challenges in mobility or logistics — so consider today’s guide our love letter to each of you earth mamas who are ready get digging in the dirt, already!
Comfortable gardening apparel for plus sizes
While most women will agree that the garden isn’t the place for a fashion show, dressing for the elements is important. Footwear and gloves that protect from injury are a must — especially when handling chemical products (like enriched fertilizers) or thorny/prickly plants, or when working in soil that may contain sharp objects or recycled glass mulch. Before you reach for your Crocs, remember that although they’re ridiculously comfortable, water-friendly and accommodating for wider feet, they’re made from lightweight material that can be easily punctured by sharp objects. And depending on where you’re working, turning all of that soil can unearth errant nails, broken glass, sharp sticks, etc. Consider a tougher, more resilient shoe like a thick-soled clog or some waterproof galoshes — and don’t be afraid to get colorful. The Original Muck Boot Company offers durable, flexible and weatherproof clogs, boots and shoes in women’s sizes 4-13 (we liked the pink houndstooth and plum vine designs). Wide openings for tucking in pants can also be godsends for plus-size women with wide calves. The spring green cheerfulness of this pair from Sloggers (up to size 10) was almost enough to make me want to grab a Garden Weasel. Other fun finds include the Ladybug Clogs from Ranger (available in sizes 5-11 and in basic colors or bright, outdoorsy designs).
When it comes to gardening gloves, women with larger hands have lots of options for digging in safety and style. If your hands or joints are sensitive, a pair of ergonomic gloves in sizes S-XL, while pricey ($37.99), may be worth the investment. For a more festive day in the yard, Mud Gloves® come in loads of bright, fun colors and sizes from XS-XL. Plus, the breathability and coated palm and fingers for gripping traction are paired with features like UV protection and aloe moisturizers. Ultimately, selecting the right type of gardening glove is more important than the pretty design, so make sure you take into consideration the work you’ll be doing. You’ll want a different glove for handling poisonous plants or chemicals (choose Neoprene) than you will for rough yard work like extreme pruning and moving brush (opt for leather).
Lighten the load with ergonomic gardening accessories
Safe, healthy yard work and gardening involve more than just happy hands and feet. It’s easy to tackle too much or stay in a position that’s hard on joints without realizing the damage done until the next day. Stocking your tool shed with the right ergonomic gardening accessories can make a big difference and keep you feeling your best.
Rather than kneeling directly on the ground, protect your knees with a kneeling pad. Ergonomic kneeling pads can be as simple as a waterproof foam wedge you can purchase at most lawn and garden centers, or they can be more elaborate — and even include reinforced knee areas and a back support option. Some women may feel more comfortable using a kneeling bench or choosing to sit on a rocker seat — this one supports weights up to 350 lbs. Just be sure you try any product first to ensure you feel safe and stable on it.
If you’re moving soil, mulch, supplies or debris around the yard, look for a cart or wheelbarrow that’s easy to maneuver. My friend Holly, the gardening fiend pictured above (and who I swear is a plant whisperer — seriously!), raves about her green Duraworx garden cart from Lowe’s. If pushing is more your thing than pulling a cart, choose one that does most of the heavy lifting for you, sparing your back, arms and legs the stress. Sears offers the Triad™ heavy-duty wheelbarrow, which is said to combine the ease of a cart with the capacity of a ‘barrow. And you can feel good about your garden and yourself by picking a pink ‘barrow with a looped handle (better for pulling/pushing) that helps fund breast cancer research.
Easier up and down to ground level
The fact that most gardening activities take place at ground level can complicate matters for larger women who may have difficulty hunkering down to the ground or standing back up again without holding onto something sturdy for leverage. While every person needs to find the approach that’s right for her, some ideas for overcoming this challenge include wide-base canes or robust, portable step stools that you can grip with both hands and push down on while raising yourself off the ground. Placing a more substantial stool near your garden area may provide the same access to leverage. (Readers: This is a great time to share your own tips for improvising leverage to stand — be sure to hit the comments section at the end of this post!)
If the up-and-down of sitting & standing isn’t a possibility, or if your knees or other joints can’t accommodate extended amounts of kneeling, crouching, bending or sitting low to the ground, another great way to maintain your gardening hobby or passion is through elevated gardening. Constructing raised garden beds elevates the ground level of your soil and plants to make it more accessible from a seated position. Similarly, stand-up gardens (sometimes called tabletop gardens) can be accessed from a standing or sometimes a seated position, making them much more ergonomically friendly. And don’t discount all the creative possibilities that window boxes, planters and hanging gardens provide — you can even grow strawberries and tomatoes from a teeny section of outdoor space!
No matter what your mobility or comfort level, the Web is crawling with additional resources for making gardening more accessible (including dozens of message boards, construction plans, DIY kits and awesome sites like The Able Gardener. Mix and match tips and techniques until you find the garden design and accessories that are right for you. We look forward to hearing from all of our green thumbs out there as your summer gardens progress. . . Now put your trowels UP!
Green-thumbed girls: Share your best fat-girl gardening find, a tip about making yourself comfy on the ground, or a challenge you’ve faced in the yard. And don’t forget to upload your photos to the FGG Flickr Group or leave us a message and a photo on our Facebook page! Fame and glory (since I’m not in charge of prizes) to those whose tomatoes can make Toni’s mouth water.