Ease up but still en­joy gar­den­ing as you age

Austin American-Statesman - - GARDENING - By Dean Fos­dick

Syd­ney Ed­di­son be­lieves you can weed out loads of de­mand­ing yard work as you age with­out re­duc­ing the en­joy­ment of gar­den­ing. The 78-year-old author says it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of gar­den­ing more wisely.

“I knew so many friends older than my­self who drove them­selves away from the land they loved and then promptly died,” said Ed­di­son, who opted to re­main alone on her se­cluded but cel­e­brated four-acres-plus in Con­necti­cut af­ter her hus­band’s death, rather than move to smaller sur­round­ings.

She has shaped the wooded prop­erty, with house and barn, into a coun­try show­case over the last half-cen­tury, giv­ing tours and writ­ing a half-dozen books about her ex­pe­ri­ences. Yet some­thing had to give, and that some­thing was painstak­ing gar­den main­te­nance.

“I threw my body at the gar­den over the years and got away with it, but I have to watch it now,” Ed­di­son said.

First, she had to have a hip re­placed, and then she de­vel­oped a cyst on her back, leav­ing her bedrid­den for a time. “I had a hor­ren­dous win­ter, but it made me re­al­ize there’s nowhere I’d rather be but here,” she said. “I couldn’t do any­thing last year, but now I can at least stake tall plants and weed.”

She gets the job done with some help from friends, and by ap­ply­ing many of the short­cuts de­scribed in her most re­cent book, “Gar­den­ing for a Life­time: How to Gar­den Wiser as You Grow Older” (Tim­ber Press, 2010). A few of her “glean­ings”:

• Re­ject per­fec­tion. “Na­ture does not clean up ev­ery dead leaf in the fall, and gar­den­ers don’t have to ei­ther. Dead leaves left un­der shrubs serve as a mulch, which even­tu­ally breaks down and con­trib­utes nu­tri­ents to the soil.”

• Thin the peren­ni­als. “In my gar­den, the square footage de­voted to flow­er­ing peren­ni­als de­mands more time and en­ergy than the rest of the acre and a half un­der cul­ti­va­tion. The greater the va­ri­ety of peren­ni­als you grow, the more work your border will en­tail.”

• Switch to shrubs. “Shrubs af­ford more value for less work. Some rarely need prun­ing.”

• Shade gar­dens are good. “Shade-tol­er­ant plants are eas­ier to main­tain than sun lovers. One of the rea­sons is that weeds are also sun lovers. In the shade, they be­come fee­ble and can be con­trolled by a layer of mulch.”

• Minia­tur­ize. “There is noth­ing fake about a con­tainer gar­den. It is the real thing. And for any­one who can’t do the heavy la­bor of in-the-ground gar­den­ing, gar­den­ing in con­tain­ers can pro­vide much of the same plea­sure.”

Gar­den­ing can be phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally re­ward­ing as you grow older, and there are many ways to over­come the chal­lenges of a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing body.

“If your vi­sion is fail­ing, choose tools with bright han­dles,” said Re­becca Haller, di­rec­tor of the Hor­ti­cul­tural Ther­apy In­sti­tute in Den­ver. “Be more care­ful with trip haz­ards — un­even paving stones or hoses ly­ing across a path. Grow ver­ti­cal so you don’t have to stoop. Put things on wheels rather than push­ing or pulling. Gar­den closer to the house so you don’t tire so much com­ing and go­ing. Have a spot where you can rest. Pace your­self.”

Mak­ing the most of the time you have left is one of the older gar­dener’s pri­mary tasks, Ed­di­son said.

“How beau­ti­ful can you make your gar­den with the re­sources you still have at your com­mand?” she said. “This is the ques­tion I keep ask­ing my­self. I don’t have the an­swer, but I’m work­ing on it.”

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