Sydney Eddison is my kind of garden writer, now passing along wisdom acquired from gardening for 50 years. No BS, no rhetoric. Trust this writer; she knows what she’s talking about.
Eddison’s sixth book, Gardening for a Lifetime, is timely for those of us who are following her into senior gardening (and she NEVER uses that term), and for people with limited physical abilities for whatever reason. Here are my favorite take-aways from it, embellished a bit with a phone chat with the author.
- “It took a great deal of effort to make my garden as high-maintenance as it is,” and she “loved digging great
big holes and moving plants around all the time. That was the point of it all.” So it’s due entirely to annoying developments like hip replacement that she’ll even consider switching to low-maintenance gardening.
- “We need a whole new attitude toward lawn.”
- Gardening in shade requires very little work – just tending the paths with yearly raking, weeding and mulching.
- But beyond the practical advantages, Eddison loooooves her Eastern woodlands garden – “My idea of heaven.” To create one, just make a path through the trees, then add ferns, hellebores, spring bulbs and a few native shrubs.
- And what’s “essential for a woodland garden”? Amending the soil and mulching, because tree roots are so “greedy”. She uses leafmold herself, and has found that wildflowers love the stuff.
- As the long-time caretaker of huge perennial borders, Eddison admits that they’re pretty darn labor-intensive. So to save on labor, switch to shrubs – they “afford more value for less work”. Her favorites include the same ones I’m constantly recommending – Spireas, oakleaf hydrangeas, prostrate blue spruces, compact Weigelas, Viburnums – plus boxwoods, sapphireberry and Chamaecyparis pisifera “Filifera Aurea Nana”.
- Pressed to name some lower-maintenance perennials, she recommends Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (“the gold standard for foliage and flower”), Agastache “Blue Fortune”, ornamental grasses, Liriope, Boltonia asteroids “snowbank”, Amsonia, Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, lamb’s ears, Siberian iris, and daylilies. On the other end of the maintenance scale are bearded irises, which she has banished from her garden.
- She’s against double-digging but very keen on organic matter – mulch and compost.
- The book includes real-life stories about finding people to help with the garden.
- And now that she mentions it, container gardening IS gardening, and can be just as much a creative outlet as those perennial borders.
Eddison’s plants and gardening practices are extremely similar to my own, so it’s no surprise that I’m recommending this wonderful book.
By telephone I asked Eddison if gardeners live longer or healthier lives and got an honest answer, not really the one I was expecting. “I’m kind of a wreck”, though “I’m in great shape for the shape I’m in.” She’s convinced, however, that gardeners are happier than other people. (Can I hear an “Amen”?)
So how’d she turn into such a passionate life-long gardener? By growing up in rural Connecticut loving the woods, animals, and just being outdoors. Then at 17 she visited an aunt in England and was bowled over by the gardens, and came to see gardening as an art form. It’s been an important artistic outlet for her (on top of her career as a set designer and drama teacher) and that passion for beauty distinguishes this gem
of a book from the usual gardening advice.
Touching on gardening’s hottest controversy, here’s what she thinks about admonitions to avoid planting “exotics”: “Oh dear heaven, I think that’s ridiculous! It’s incredibly limiting.” She’s also not crazy about the “holier-than-thou types” she’s heard expound on the subject. (Honestly, she doesn’t read the Rant, never heard of it!)
Lastly, on her career as a garden writer: “I couldn’t feed my Jack Russell on what I make writing.”