10 Great Things about Gardening for a Lifetime


WE HAVE A WINNER: Congratulations to Cindy P!

Sydney Eddison is my kind of garden writer, now passing along wisdom acquired fromEddison_s 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.

  1.  "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.
  2. "We need a whole
    new attitude toward lawn.” 
  3. Gardening in shade requires very little work – just tending the paths with yearly raking, weeding and mulching.  
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.
  6. 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”.
  7. 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.
  8. She’s against double-digging but very keen on organic matter – mulch and compost. 
  9. The book includes real-life stories about finding people to help with the garden.
  10. 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 Gardeningforlifetime 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.”

The Giveaway
So let's continue to not feed her Jack Russell by giving away a copy of Gardening for a Lifetime.  It'll be chosen randomly from commenters, who can weigh i
n on low-maintenance gardening or really, anything at all.  Y'all know how to do that.  Entries close Friday 4/23 at 8 EDT.

To buy the book AND tip GardenRant, click the cover in the right sidebar.  (It won't feed our pets, either, but every little bit helps.)



  1. Funny, I was just thinking that I feel creakier this year than last and so was pondering this very topic. I’m already into the low-maintenance gardening, totally.

    …well, except for building the stone patios. And the gravel bike path. And the shed. And arbor. Rain barrels…

    Oh hell.

  2. “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.” I love this quote. That is exactly how I feel. And it reminds me of a time I was out with a friend and saw a plant I just had to have. As we were standing in the check out line my friend asked, “Where are you going to plant that”. My response, “who know, but I don’t have one and it is so pretty.”

    Anyway, this year I am suffering from weeders elbow (feels just like tennis elbow), and have been thinking about how I can garden with less pain. I think I might learn something valuable from that book.

  3. I certainly need to read this book. I have just started designing the gardens at my “retirement” home. I am hoping that by the time I retire and move in on a permanent basis (now just used weekends)the gardens will be (semi) mature, and the maintenance will be lower. But, I could be going about it all wrong, so I need Sydney to tell me what to do before I go to far!

  4. I would love to win this book as I garden with aches & pains but joy in every new bloom, every plant returning from its winter slumber.

  5. I need this book. I downsized my vegetable garden and added shrubs when I was having trouble with an arthritic hip. I don’t know that I’ve gotten much wiser, though. Now that I have recovered from acquiring a shiny new hip the garden is slowly getting larger, but with wider wood chip paths. I creak in the morning, but those kinks usually work out within an hour.

  6. Love the philosophy, love the title. These days I’m feeling the wear and tear from a lifetime of small adventures. My gardens aren’t smaller yet, but I do many things differently in deference to aging joints and temperamental knee. I’m always looking for tips, tricks, and better tools for managing.

  7. Low maintenance???? Okay I banned the bearded iris too from my new garden, and put in more trees and shrubs, but I want the maintenance, what else would get me out into the garden? We are GARDENERS we love this stuff. She sounds wonderful.

  8. Everything I plant now is with an eye toward the day when much of the garden must be bulldozed and return to cow pastures. Meanwhile I stay in ‘the shape that I’m in’ by careful attention to my gardening methods.

  9. Yay Earth Day!

    I’m all about the “low maintenance” approach. I like to let the forest do half of the gardening, and I sculpt with it.

    I’m also inspired by THE ONE-STRAW REVOLUTION by Masanobu Fukuoka. I like the “Do-Nothing” method for ‘natural Farming’ – it feels right.

    Thank you ladies for all the great good you do for gardens everywhere – especially in your tireless efforts to get us off the lawn.



  10. My aging joints may be pushing me to consider low maintenance, but one of the reasons I garden is that I LIKE high maintenance. I LIKE the weeding, digging,moving, hauling, reconsidering and moving, hauling again. And that “again” represents nearly 40 years in my Ohio garden. To go low maintenance is to ignore the advice to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

  11. I, too, enjoy the rewards AND labor of gardening. I put in my garden 2 years ago, and the first year almost did me in – the highest level of maintenance/installation. As the garden is maturing and filling in, I came to a new philosophy this spring: “Let it be…mostly.” Low-maintenance for me is a state of mind and a choice. There’s ALWAYS something to do or maintain in the garden. In addition to what and how I plant to lower maintenance, I’m also making choices, such as “Those dandelions may stay – they are pretty.”

    Not so much any “creaking” or physical limitations yet – but I fully anticipate to have dirt under my nails until my last day.

  12. Going low maintenance doesn’t mean you have to go low maintenance every where. If you want to fuss over sweet peas, go ahead, but going low maintenance in parts of the garden will free you up to spend the time and energy on the sweet peas.

    Ms. Eddison sounds like a lovely sensible woman.

  13. There is a happiness in gardening. Do I sweat and huff? Yes. But there’s an overall peace to gardening; I know that spring, summer, and fall will come, and I am more tied to the seasons. I know when certain vegetables come, and I know what wind, rain, FROST, and heat will do. And, if things go right, I know those seeds will result in produce. How amazing is that? It’s no wonder that gardeners are happy people.

  14. My Master Gardener group currently has one community garden at a sr. center and have had requests from others for accessible container gardens and lots of questions on how to maintain gardens as we lose our mobility. This book would be a tremendous resource. I’m putting it on my want to buy list, that is of course unless you give me one!

  15. In my Facebook profile, it reads “They’ll have to pry my garden trowel from my cold, dead hands,” so I plan to be gardening for a long while yet. That said, I sure did feel the effects of a weekend of clean-up, composting, and raking efforts at the gym on WEDNESDAY. WTH? I should have been back to speed by then!

  16. “loved digging great big holes and moving plants around all the time. That was the point of it all.”

    Yes! I like getting dirty. I like huffing and puffing and moving things around. Heck, I even like weeding. Spouse once asked me what I was going to do when the garden was finished. Snort. The garden will never be done. Where is the fun in that?

  17. I’ve read “The Self-Taught Gardner” and A Patchwork Garden” by Sydney Eddison and loved them both. I got the idea of using a tarp to haul around things that are too big for the garden cart from her books (worked great for moving 32 bundles of pruned branches out to the tree lawn this past weekend. This book will have to go onto my wishlist!

  18. I usually just read and seldom comment, but as 60-something now, I want the book. And I’ll note that many of my clients who ask for low-maintenance mean no-maintenance. I gently let them know that a no maintenance garden is an oxymoron, and something one doesn’t want anyway. Maintenance brings us into the garden, and I’m reminded over and over that the best thing a garden can have is the gardener in the garden seeing what needs to be done before it becomes overwhelming.

  19. I’l still spew my native plant harangues to whoever will listen for a few seconds. If it is limiting, than that is where the joy comes from. I have found so many wonderful plants I would never have before, and the esearch involved has made me a much wiser, informed, smarter, joyful, involved gardener. Going to the nursery and buying whatever grabs you seems to, I don’t know, echo other areas of our culture (see the doc Food Inc.).

  20. “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.”

    This really struck a chord with me. My husband’s goal in landscaping the yard was to make it as low-maintenance as possible. Fortunately, my constant digging, planting, moving, puttering, and changing my mind has resulted in a delightfully high-maintenance landscape. I can (and often do) spend my whole weekend – whole vacations, even – tinkering with parts of the yard & garden. He shakes his head, wondering what’s the point to all of this. All of “this” is the point !

  21. I’m interested in reading this book! More and more I look at shrubs for new planting areas; although I can’t resist a “few” perennials . . .

  22. I’m trying to figure out why one would ban bearded iris…I’m planning to go visit the iris farm this weekend so I can plan which to add. They are so incredibly easy care. And I would love a woodland garden…if only I had a woodland!

  23. Two tips:
    1. If you want low maintenance, DO NOT do topiary.
    2. If there are deer nearby, DO NOT plant daylilies. You will either spend every spring day spraying the lily buds or you will spend every day looking at grassy green foliage.

    I’m looking forward to truly gardening for a lifetime. Mom taught me to garden as soon as I could poke beans or nasturtiums in the ground and I plan to keep on doing so until I’m pushing up the daisies myself.

  24. 10 years ago, Sydney traveled here to Ithaca to address a garden conference. I had the pleasure of picking her up at the airport and driving her around. She is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. And if she tunes in to the Rant and reads this, she should know that I still cherish my bucket and think of her every time I use it.

  25. I would love to read this book because, while I’m only slightly old (just turned 50), I am gardening despite/because of a chronic illness that severely limits what I can do (thirty minutes a day, no more). Gardening is, much to my surprise and delight, better than physical therapy. Starting gardening is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and one of the great gifts of an illness that took away many other things (career, health, etc).

  26. i have read all of Sydney Eddison’s other books and enjoyed each one. I garden the next town over from her and the one time I ran into her outside a garden center, we talked about her dog. It wasn’t until I drove off I realized why she looked familiar to me. I too am turning to more shrubs and daylilies but I still love my bearded iris. Simplifying some parts of the garden means you can keep some plants that still need high maintanence.

  27. Spring comes and with it, me lying in my bed at the end of the day, arms stretched high over my head as I fall asleep. This wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t wake up in the morning and couldn’t feel my hands. Snipping, sawing, digging, raking and cultivating; I used to be able to do all of this stuff without various body part pain when I started gardening in my 30s. What happened? I think low-maintenance gardening needs another descriptor: perhaps happy bones gardening?

  28. Sydney Eddison is a realist. I love that. And I found myself saying, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” as I read your phone chat notes.


    Awaiting appraiser report to clinch contract to sell 2 acres of gardening bliss to move (in 4 weeks) to a condo w/patio for over 55-only. Nuff said.

    This would be a great condo-warming “open when unpacked” carrot.

  29. I just went on a Garden Tour in the Chapel Hill, NC area this past weekend and had the pleasure of visiting some of the most beautiful home gardens I’ve ever seen. Yes inspiring, but practical?….I would venture a guess that they have a large staff to maintain these elaborates garden spaces! Keeping it simple is my gardening goal!

  30. Gardening with a body that doesn’t renew as efficiently now as it did 30 years ago, I really need this book (or a support group?). Recently discovered I must wear hiking boots while gardening. If not, I must spend hours moving flexible icepacks around my feet and ankles. I’ve been using the tarp for dragging and now know the source for credit. Eliz Lawrence will have to share shelf space with Sydney Eddison. Thanks, Ranters, for introducing me to another great garden writer.

  31. I would love to present this book to my mom, who is now widowed, of a certain age, and is starting to find her huge gardens a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

    Thanks for the chance!

  32. I can’t read all of the comments, but some of them had me giggling. My favorite was the person who said she wanted the maintenance, for what else would get her out into the garden … answer: curiosity and photography. And oh my I can hear Sydney responding to the living longer/happier lives. Even her most beautiful garden chores require time and energy – like deadheading ALL those incredible daylilies every evening. I’d love to win the book, but will buy it anyhow. I’m glad you reviewed this so more people will see it.

  33. OK, so why aren’t Knockout roses or Flowercarpet roses in that list of low maintenance shrubs? I absolutely love them!

  34. My son and I share a common trait – extreme laziness. So my neighbors don’t turn us into the street police, we have been talking about replacing lawn with garden. But because we’re lazy, it has to be low maintenance! So this book would be perfect.

  35. My bearded irises–the ones left from years of collecting “just one more”, of fighting the dreaded iris borer, and all those sweaty August days spent thinning and transplanting for a bigger/better bloom next spring–are on their way out. I love them, but I’m ready to accept and let go.

    So count me in as another “senior” who is switching to shrubs and small trees. Thanks for book recommendation!

  36. Thanks to this post, I stayed up all night reading A Patchwork Garden. Okay, so I took a break from 11pm-1am, but I’ve been up since then reading. I so want to rush home and start digging and re-arranging. Sadly, home is 700 miles away.

    A truly wonderful book and a gifted writer. Thank you for introducing me to a new “friend.”

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