Gardening for a Lifetime – How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older

By Sydney Eddison, Timber Press, 2011

A Book Review by Lenore Linton, Master Gardener

Sydney Eddison is a garden writer who has lived and gardened in Newtown Connecticut [zone 6b] since 1961. By 2004 both the author and her husband were experiencing health problems which made gardening more challenging but they were not ready to leave their well-loved home and garden. In Gardening for a Lifetime she explores the options available to older gardeners, especially those wishing to stay put. However, this book is not just for 80 year olds; there is much in it for busy younger gardeners who have work and family responsibilities.

In forty-three years Eddison had created a large and beautiful garden that she was no longer able to maintain without help. With the help of friends, and the paid help she could afford Eddison set out to make her garden easier to care for. In each of the first eleven chapters she shares a strategy used to make the garden more manageable. At the end of each chapter the author sums up the four or five main points under the heading Gleanings. I appreciate these concise easily accessed gems of wisdom.

Chapter one – Tracing the Garden’s History – Gleanings “Gardener Know Thy Self. Making the decisions to change the habits of a lifetime is hard enough but to actually do it is harder.”

Chapter two – Rethinking the Perennial Borders – Gleanings “The greater the varieties of perennials you grow the more work your border will entail. … A standard of good behavior for a perennial: It must be truly perennial and return faithfully every year … have good foliage, attractive for most of the season … maintain tidy habits, no flopping all over its neighbor, and not offering an invitation to predators, pests and disease.”[Note what meets this standard in zone 6b Connecticut may not be hardy in zone 3 Winnipeg].

Chapter three – Simplicity: Substituting Shrubs for Perennials – Gleanings “It is more difficult to move shrubs than perennials so you need to be more careful in your selection … be suspicious of sizes given in nursery catalogs … shrubs often exceed the size in otherwise reliable nursery catalogs.”
Chapter Eight – Lessons from the Garden: Accepting Imperfection – Gleanings “Lawn care, don’t mow too close at any time of the year. Covering the soil with organic mulch and compost is the biggest favor you can do yourself and your garden.” And my favorite, “Life is perfect only rarely and briefly, and gardens are the same. Living things are always in a state of becoming. A seed becomes a mature plant, which enjoys a brief prime, ages, dies, and becomes compost to nurture a new generation. As that is how nature works, our best hope of a simpler garden lies in learning to go with the flow.”

In spring 2009 after walking around her property to assess the progress made in making the garden easier to maintain Eddison decided to stay put. After making the changes that made her garden more manageable she found that in order to balance all the demands of her life it wasn’t the garden that weighed on her mind, but the day to day tasks of running a home after the death of her lifelong partner. Help with these tasks freed her to work in the garden that she loved.

Eddison acknowledges that staying put is not the right choice for everyone who wishes to continue gardening as they grow older. There is a chapter devoted to each of the following choices: creating a meadow using native plants, keeping new gardens small, and simple, exploring new ways to garden with miniature landscapes, and container gardening.

Gardening for a Lifetime is no longer in print, however, there are two copies in the Winnipeg Public library system. It is also readily available for purchase on line. I first borrowed this book September 2013 after hobbling around my garden for two years as I awaited knee surgery. The information was timely and I have borrowed it every summer since, but as Eddison says “making the decision to change is hard, but to actually change is harder.” I have just ordered a copy of Gardening for a Lifetime. I still need to make more changes if I am to continue gardening as I grow older.