Older man working in garden in a kneeling position

Facing the Earth

Looking down is looked down upon, isn’t it? Happy, healthy people are supposed to stand tall and look toward the horizon. “Looking up” is a way of saying things are improving. A “downer” is a disappointment.

But gardeners, even the most optimistic ones, are almost always looking down.

If I ever become incapable of bending over, my gardening days will be over. Except in specially designed gardens for the disabled, it’s impossible to garden in an upright position or while seated.

Sometimes I’m appalled by how much of my time in the garden is spent in a bent-over position. I’ve even wondered if it’s harmful. (I suspect it makes face wrinkles worse. Gravity, you know.) On the other hand, I don’t have any back problems. Maybe I’ve naturally used the correct technique for bending over, called the “hip-hinge.”

Woman wearing hat working in plant nursery in a bent over position
Bending from the hips makes it possible to hold this position while working. (Image by Jennifer Overfield from Pixabay.)

Planting things, weeding, deadheading, connecting hoses, and just peering at plants to see how they’re doing — all those garden tasks require one to bend over. Never mind picking up tools and gathering weeds, clippings, etc. for disposal, which require any number of additional bend-overs.

For some garden jobs, such as manual edge trimming or intensive weeding in one spot, I get down onto one or both knees. A kneeling pad helps, as does switching positions every now and then.

Older man working in garden in a kneeling position
Image by Radoslaw Kulupa from Pixabay.

Thinking about this, I realized that both kneeling and bending at the waist are positions associated with humility and showing respect. What could be more appropriate for us gardeners than to bend our knees and our bodies, and turn our faces toward the Earth?

These thoughts reminded me of words by Henry Beston, nature writer and gardener:

“Touch the earth, love the earth, honour the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach.” (From The Outermost House: a year of life on the great beach of Cape Cod.)

As a gardener and creature of Earth, I am honoured to bend my back and knees to her. The rewards are rich and wonderful.

California poppies, orange, white, pink


  1. I have never thought about the humility and respectful position we assume when gardening, and you’re right, nature deserves all that we can summon. Probably why we feel so much better after an hour or two in her company…

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    1. Thanks, Robbie. I suspect having short legs helps. I had never heard of the “hip hinge” until I looked up bending over before writing this post. There’s a lot of information about it on the internet. I honestly can’t say if it’s a real thing or not, but I’m glad not to have back pain while gardening.

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  2. Great quote and I really love the imagery you use. Lift up your heart and your eyes to the hills. Bend over your head, hips, and heart to cultivate the earth and its growing things. May your garden prosper and you with it.

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  3. That’s why I had to give up gardening – can’t bend over nowadays and if I ever got down on my knees, I’d need a crane to get me up!

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    1. Well, gnomes just sit there and look cute or grumpy. That’s their job. But kids–they’re so short and flexible that bending is no problem at all. In my case, I think having short-ish legs does help.

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    1. Yes, that book is one of my favourites. I noticed your blog when you wrote about visiting the Cape. Beston’s book Herbs and the Earth is what got me into gardening. I first read it when I was about 13, which seems sort of weird, but I’ve loved it ever since.

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  4. Anytime I do vigorous exercise of any kind, my body lets me know the next day. Lots of bending over gets me every time. That I can live with, but what about the aches and pains that seem to come from nowhere? Sleeping should not be a strenuous activity. 🤣🤣

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  5. I spent a couple of hours face down today as well. Got stuck into a bit of rockery that had been annoying me. Fixed it, but oh my back. lol Glad you’re still hale and hearty. 😀

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  6. I greatly enjoyed the change in perspective, from looking upwards to celebrate trees and sky to looking downwards to celebrate earth and low-growing life. I have to admit, I kept getting distracted by the abundance of poppies. They are magnificent!

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  7. Reblogged this on Carmel Bendon – author and commented:
    Humility – take a bow. The words ‘humility’ and ‘humble’ both come from the Latin, ‘humilis’ meaning ‘on the ground’. In this lovely post about gardening, and the way that it calls our attention to the earth, the author, Audrey Driscoll, captures something of the way in which humility and reverence are bound together. And, as gardening is just as vital now as it has always been, I thought you would enjoy Audrey’s post.


  8. More great tips, Audrey. Thanks! I have a kneeling pad but bending from the hips makes sense to me. My back aches if I stay too long, so I’m often straightening up to stretch it out .

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