Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Garden Accidents of the Rich and Famous

As I was mindlessly weed whacking last week, an inspiration struck me. That was right after a rock was hurled up into my eyeglasses by the spinning blades of my weed trimmer.

Fortunately, the plastic lens of my eyeglasses only suffered a scratch. Normally, I would wear better eye protection while power weeding. Perhaps goggles or a shield. But this was supposed to be just a "quick trim" around the redwoods, in an area here where rocks never posed an issue (unlike 90% of the rest of my property).
Yes, I should know better, especially since I am one of those preachers of "read and follow all label directions". Other stupid gardener tricks in which I have been more than fortunate: almost slicing my finger off while testing the lopper blade action of a pole pruner (lots of band-aids); rototilling over a yellowjacket nest (the fastest I have ever run); climbing a ladder placed on a wet concrete patio ("this will be interesting" was my reaction as I lay on the ground on my back, the ladder on top of me. Somehow, I was OK).

But what gardener has not done something similar, in particular those who offer garden advice professionally?
Thus the inspiration for:  

The only problem: there is no such person as a "rich gardener". So, I offer you four stories from the local literary world of famous writers: the garden columnists of the Sacramento Bee, past and present. And, a tale from a famous local nursery owner.

Dick Tracy, Sacramento Bee garden writer (1970's-1990's):
"It must have been 25-28 years ago. I was doing some 'impulse' weed whacking here at the ranch and saw my safety goggles hanging near the whacker, but said, 'This'll only be a few minutes' (Argh!) I was working on a downhill slope and the back of the shield raised just enough that a pebble (or something) flew and hit me in (or very, very near) my right eye.  I stopped working, washed it out with water and prayed for the best.  No one listened.  On my way in to Sacramento, I suddenly had this large black "spider" descend over my right eye and I was essentially blind in that eye with what are called "floaters." The trip to the opthamologist wasn't fun...and my vision in that eye has never been what it was. I'm shooting trap for a hobby now, and when I watch the clay bird in flight (without glasses) it appears to be followed by another piece of a bird as it flies through the air. Nowadays, I have my safety helmet and wire mesh mask AND my glasses on when using the weed whip. And I never take off the plastic shield from the trimmer, which some people do to create a bigger swath for the trimmer string." 

Dan Vierria, Sacramento Bee Garden Writer (1999-2006):
"I've strained my back a dozen times lifting sacks of compost/potting soil, boulders, etc. I've sliced open fingers with hand pruners (deadheading). I had a skin cancer removed from the side of my nose two months ago. Too much sun from gardening over the years. I was amazed how many other gardeners have had skin cancers carved off their bods. Now I wear a WIDE brim hat and sunscreen."

A link with more information about skin cancer symptoms.

Pat Rubin, Sacramento Bee Garden Writer (2006-2008): "I was using a new mower, set for side discharge with a shroud in back to direct things to the side and it had a skirt on the back. i was wearing heavy shoes, jeans, protective eye wear and ear protection. I was mowing a field, not the typical lawn, so it was rough, tall grass, and somehow a nail got thrown out the back, hit me about 5 inches above the knee! No one can figure out how this happened, but i have the 4-inch deep by 2-3 inch wide gash to prove it... and the surgeon gave me the nail. There was some debris on the ground at the time: twigs, cardboard, and apparently something with a nail, but how it got shot out the back and hit me 5 or 6 inches above the knee baffles us all."

Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee Garden Writer (2008-present): "I learned (the hard way) at an early age why you always put the rake or hoe facing down. One step and it can give you a bloody nose (done that, too -- like a scene out of a slapstick gardening comedy). I almost knocked myself out with a rake that way, too.
I've inadvertently stuck my hand into a nest of ground bees. 
 Another time, pulling weeds, I grabbed a wasp instead (ouch!). I've underestimated the weight of gravel sacks and my back has never forgiven me.
My most theatrical gardening mishap came when I was clearing leaves off our patio roof and gutters. This was the summer of 1984 in Long Beach. Our patio was raised about a foot and was bordered by a large bed of robust rose bushes (big healthy ones, with gigantic thorns). In the middle of the bed was a large concrete bird bath, salvaged from my family's farm and featuring a life-size goose with outspread wings.
Well, the ladder slipped off the edge of the patio while I was on the top step, sending me straight towards the fountain and rose bushes. It was not going to be pretty.  Somehow, I managed to twist around and actually hurtle over the fountain and land between two rose bushes. The goose wings gashed both shins (I still have the scars), but I avoided impalement and the fountain stayed standing. And I landed straight on my feet with my arms outstretched.
Why I remember the date: This was during the 1984 L.A. Olympics. My son, who was outside helping, caught my gymnastic move, threw his arms up and yelled, 'It's a 10!'
I'm no Mary Lou Retton, but that recovery deserved gardening gold.

P.S. The worst gardening accident I've heard about since I started this beat was Dr. Norm Klein, the cactus collector. He slipped off his ladder and was impaled on one of his plants. The 3-inch spines went clear through both arms.  As he said, 'I've been stuck thousands of times. If your hobby is rattlesnakes, eventually you'll get bit.'"

Don Shor, owner -  Redwood Barn Nursery, Davis; garden talk show host, KDRT-Davis:
"This is more of a cautionary tale for parents of young children. Early one morning, Natalie was out mowing weeds and old berry vines with a high-wheel mower. She was wearing all the appropriate protective gear, including goggles and earplugs. Eric, age 5, went running out to see his mom, wearing nothing more than a night shirt (i.e., one of dad's old shirts). Dad didn't notice.
In spite of her ear protection, she could hear his piercing scream. His leg was bleeding and there was a strange bulge on the back side. Before I even knew what was happening, she was carrying him face down to the car and rushing to the emergency room.
A four-inch piece of baling wire had shot out the mower and nearly through his leg. It tried to eject through the back of his leg, but the skin held tight so it was making a half-inch bulge. The EMT's decided to incise and then pull it through, clean up the wound, and put him on a course of antibiotics. They sent the wire home with him as a trophy.
When he took it for show-and-tell in kindergarten the next day, his teacher told me she nearly lost her lunch as he gleefully described the whole event. An inch or so to the left, and my chances of becoming a grandfather would have been substantially diminished.
When using power equipment, wear appropriate protective gear. And be aware of the location and movements of your children and pets!"


  1. Wow! I remember as a younger man having rocks thrown into my legs from the old Toro mower but never had an assault on the rapidly diminishing eyeballs.

    Glad I never go near a lawn tool these days!

    Be careful out there.

  2. I'm pretty disciplined about safety glasses with my mower & trimmer. Having had my mower kick a 1/2" rock through the kitchen window two weeks ago, I plan to stay that way.

  3. I've busted my brow open stepping on a shovel that my daughter had flipped over the wrong way. Not only am I more cautious about how I place tools these days- but I'm also not very trusting of when someone else is outside gardening with me!

  4. I had a minor but relevant injury happen yesterday. I was mowing the back field at my moms property with the lawn tractor. Blades were dull and doing a poor job so I decided to stop and sharpen. Went to the shop, grabbed a glove and the necessary tools. 1st blade no problem.
    2nd blade requires some flexibility to remove so I was laying on the ground and had both hands under the guard, the gravel was bothering my elbow so I removed the glove from my hand and stuck it under my arm for cushion. About 5 seconds after doing this I turn the wrench to loosen the blade and sure enough Mr Pointer finds the sole inch of sharpness left on the blade as it introduces itself to the bone on the inside of the upper most joint. I couldn't do anything but look at the glove under my elbow and curse. Stupid stupid stupid.

  5. I stepped directly on a hornets nest when picking grapes. I got stung all over my face and my lips looked like I had injections. It was horrible and I talked like daffy duck! I now where this huge hat with a net hanging over it. I love grapes but not the stings. I wear pants and a long sleve shirt no matter how hot it it. This year I kinda shutter everytime I look at my grape vines!

  6. I'm just rather shocked that I haven't made this list yet. But given that I'm still relatively young -- I suppose there's lots of time. In Madera -- while weeding a melon patch -- I did pull up a resting King Snake along with a big patch of weeds. That will get ye olde ticker pumping fast. But my mistakes are of the "stupid" type, like hacking into the wrong PVC line, which I'm famous for doing (really, ask anyone).

  7. Power tools seem to play a biggish role here, but I suppose without them you'd be telling stories about the time the scythe---

    Glad you all lived to write another day!