How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older

Submitted by Faye Mahaffey

OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer


I love receiving books as presents. I love to read and turn the pages and ponder over the photographs (can you guess that I don’t have a Kindle?). One such gift was a gardening book written by Sydney Eddison. I have to admit that I had mixed feelings when I read the title, Gardening for a Lifetime – How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older. No one wants to admit that they have turned the corner as far as age goes – plain and simple. My friend has been asking what I thought about the book, and I finally explained that I just hadn’t had time to start reading a book since I had just finished the last items on my garden list. Now that I have started the book, I can’t put it down!

The author explains that over the years she had extended her perennial border by a few feet every year until it measured a hundred feet in length and twenty feet in width! “Gardens and Gardeners age and change”, states Eddison, “and I realized suddenly that my garden and I needed help. I had created a garden that was impossible to maintain without assistance.”

Step #1 of Eddison’s plan became “Re-thinking the Perennial Border.” She developed a standard of good garden behavior for each perennial that included: (a.) It must truly be a perennial and return faithfully every year. (b.) It must be healthy and exhibit fortitude to endure dry summers and cold winters. (c.) It must have superior foliage. (d.) It must maintain a tidy habit-no flopping or sprawling and must remain within reasonable bounds. (e.) It must not offer an invitation to predators, pests, or diseases.

A list of Eddison’s perennials with highest marks: sedums, ornamental grasses, blue star (Amsonia), anise hyssop (Agastache), calamint, lily turf (Liriope), false aster (Kalimeris pinnatifida), and blue false indigo (Baptisia australis).

The author then suggests substituting shrubs for perennials. The bonus? Shrubs need pruning only once or twice a year, instead of the regular deadheading and frequent division required by daylilies and many other perennials. Shrubs afford more value for less work and supply strong structural forms to break up the softness of blossom.

Eddison then gives her readers a word of warning. “Do your research – it is more difficult to move a shrub than a perennial, so you need to be more careful in your selections. Be especially suspicious of sizes given in nursery catalogs. Beware of dwarf varieties, especially those that are smaller versions of shrubs and trees that eventually become large plants. Try to find out at least approximate sizes in five years, ten years, and fifteen years.” I laughed out loud when I read this warning since a “dwarf” that I purchased 20 some years ago now looms at about 20 feet!

Have you noticed that your flowerbeds are looking “tired” and need some rejuvenation? Are there areas that you never quite get weeded during the growing season? Maybe it’s time to take a walk with a notepad and pen (dodging the raindrops) and re-think your landscape. One of the best moves I made a few years ago was to move my Herbs from the garden to large pots on the deck so that I just had to walk a few steps from a cutting of sage or basil. Next year I hope to transform part of my perennial bed into a small prairie. Is it time to make some changes in your gardens?

It’s always fun to take the long way to the mailbox and see what’s still trying to bloom. I discovered some Autumn Crocus blooming, which was a complete surprise since they had just been planted a few weeks ago!

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