Gardens and Gardeners Through Time

Julie Falk
Adams County Master Gardener

Sydney Eddison is a noted gardener, having developed spectacular gardens, written seven books, and delivered lectures for several decades. She has lived in Connecticut for about 50 years, and gardened there on a grand scale. Last year, Ms. Eddison published a book titled Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older. As an aging Boomer, with a growing awareness of encroaching limitations, this was a must-read for me. Most of my age-mates can still do most everything, but weíre a lot slower climbing out of bed the next day.

The book is a compact and forthright memoir tracing the changes in Ms. Eddisonís garden, and her approach to it, over the fifty years she has tended it. When I first started the book, I thought, "This canít apply to me". The woman gardens on a huge scale. She has acreage, and has intervened with nearly all of it. She has established scads of perennial borders, islands of trees and shrubs, and container gardens. She has moved streambeds, lugged soil and mulch into the forest, and planted gardens in the woods! Even when she was younger, her passion for gardening was so big that she required hired assistance. Most of us are not in that bracket. But I found, as I read on, that much of what she has to say can be applied on any scale Ė and she says it very nicely.

Sydney Eddison spent years building her lovely labor-intensive gardens, and genuinely loved the process. It seems that when she wasnít writing or teaching, she could be found designing, digging, dead-heading, or dividing. But as the trees and flowerbeds matured, so did Sydney. Particularly after her husband died, and probably as income became more fixed, she realized that she no longer had the resources to maintain the same kind of garden environment. She began a long examination of how to change her relationship to the garden, so that she could still find joy in it without being overburdened.

The Eddisonís garden was rich in flowers, especially perennial borders. Many of the plants were high-maintenance, in that they required frequent attention like deadheading, pruning, staking, watering or covering in the winter. After deliberation, the author chose a basic variety of beloved plants that were low maintenance, and began to eliminate what remained. She chose to keep plants that didnít require much labor and had pleasing foliage for a long period Ė especially sedums, liriope, bowmanís root, amsonia and some asters. She began to substitute shrubs for some of the flowers. Dwarf spruces required little attention, and provided beautiful backdrop for the remaining flowers. Hydrangeas, viburnums and spiraeas could themselves provide colorful blooms, and did well with a light annual trimming.

If youíve been gardening for a long time, some of the trees youíve planted may have matured to the point where they shade out flower beds. Ms. Eddison decided to take advantage of that. She traded some high-maintenance beds for patches of "shade garden" under the trees, planted with shade-tolerant native plants. Native plants require almost no attention to survive, as long as one plants the right species in the right place. Along the same lines, the author would recommend giving up high-maintenance lawns. If you donít need grass to feel civilized, your yard can be covered with attractive mulch with islands of plantings (flowers, shrubs, ground covers etc.). You could also establish areas of meadow or rock gardens. If you must have lawn, Ms. Eddison advises tolerating some imperfection and using only organic materials on the grass.

As many master gardeners would agree, one can have a very productive gardening life with the use of containers. They can include both vegetable and flower gardening. Ms. Eddison loves to design the colors and textures of the container garden on her patio, so that it looks different each year. She even paints her metal patio furniture different colors, and arranges the pots to frame different views into the distance.

We all find ourselves older every year, but there are other reasons for needing to conserve oneís energy and resources. Perhaps youíre busier at work, or your growing children need more of your time, or money is tight. Gardening for a Lifetime is filled with observations that can be useful whether youíre planning your first garden, or recovering from your last.

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