Saturday, November 19, 2011

Too Old to Garden?

A few weeks ago when my friend Leslie and I were discussing the incredible amount of work our gardens had required this past summer, she suggested I read “Gardening for a Lifetime,” a book on “How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older.”  The author, Sydney Eddison,  a lady I suspect is only a few years older than I am,  has enjoyed a life very similar to mine.  She has designed and created her own gardens,  gives lectures, writes books, and even became a widow in 2005, the same year I did. 

I was eager to learn about Mrs. Eddison’s ideas on how to cope when one no longer has the physical stamina to maintain a large garden.  I wasn’t surprised to find that hiring a variety of helpers was her first solution.  My kids have been telling me to do just that for the past five years. 

I  have a wonderful yard man who comes for an hour or so each week to do the “man jobs” I can’t do. He mows the steep banks around the pond, moves rocks too heavy for me to move, fixes machines that don’t work.   But I want to do all those other garden jobs. 

Unfortunately I’m in the same predicament as Mrs. Eddison, getting too cripped up to continue maintaining a landscape that I’ve spent more than 50 years creating. But I’ve gardened all these years for very different reasons than this erudite lady has.

I acquired all my garden knowledge through gardening, learning from my many mistakes.  I had no background or education in gardening, never took courses in horticulture, never went to nurseries to find new and different plants. I’ve never even bothered to learn the Latin names of the perennials in my gardens. As a result I am always uncomfortable talking to educated gardeners.

When I began to write gardening columns for the local newspapers it was only because I couldn’t find a publisher for the 3 “Great American Novels” I’d written. It always makes sense to write about what you’re familiar with, and by then I had a bushel basket of gardening experiences and was even giving my wildflower programs to garden clubs.   

When my readers ask gardening questions, I look up the answers in books if I’ve never dealt personally with the problems they encounter.   “I’m not a horticulturist, just an entertainer” has been my stock apology.   It still is. My first love is writing. And there’s the vast difference between this very knowledgeable gardener and myself. 

I have delighted in the challenge of turning an abandoned farm into a beautiful property.  I revel in caring for this landscape Hank and I created, getting my hands in the dirt, nestling little seedlings in their new home, pulling up all those ferocious weeds.  I love it when my grandchildren want to get out the photo albums and look back at the early years when Locust Hill didn’t even have a lawn, just burdocks and poison ivy and falling down fences.

My head is full of wonderful memories of how we struggling to tame this muddled tangle of vegetation, building retaining walls, fencing the sheep pastures, starting my first vegetable garden.  One of my oldest memories from Locust Hill occurred way back in 1965 when my new friend Bunny Foster brought me a dozen iris rhizomes. I didn’t even know what they were. 

Where to put them?  Those plants were the beginning of my perennial border, a flower bed that grew like Topsy.  My friend Janette brought me feverfew, Betsy gave me Monarda, Henny divided and gave me peony roots, my mother offered me lemon lilies. Eventually the border extended the entire length of sheep pasture fence, over 100 feet.

I love remembering the morning I went out to the compost pile with the morning’s coffee grounds and saw that one of our ewes had produced three lambs.  What a sight! 

Or the day I was lucky enough to have my camera when a total of 8 pintails splashed down into the pond, ducking and diving for twenty minutes before flapping back up into the blue sky.

What fun to recall the excitement as we prepared for the first wedding on Locust Hill; how I scalloped the perennial border’s boring straight edge and bought lupines and peonies and annuals so we’d have blooms in June; how our naughtiest dog, Rosta, stepped on Trum’s train as she and her Dad walked across the lawn toward the waiting groom.

 Oh, dear, I could easily spend another hour or two reminiscing about Locust Hill! 

Mrs. Eddison had many other good suggestions in her book besides hiring help, but I will save them (and I suspect a few more memories) for my next column.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely memories of Locust Hill. We finally submitted to aging backs this year and hired someone to cut the grass while we're gone, and prune all the trees, since we're not there at the right season (and don't really know how to do it anyway). A little help is not a bad thing!