The Secrets of Gardening for Older Adults

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” – Claude Monet


Sydney Eddison, an 81-year-old gardener extraordinaire from Newtown, CT, embodies the outlook of the beloved French impressionist.

Eddison began her adventures in gardening over 50 years ago in 1961. Her path has led to seven books, including Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older, published by Timber Press.

Eddison's journey into the joys of gardening has been well-documented. She has been profiled as a die-hard horticultural perfectionist who has returned to simplicity. "Being realistic has been hard. I was not graceful about it.”

The green-thumbed octogenarian has created a 5-point guide to help aging gardeners pursue their pastime.

Five Steps to an Easier Garden:

1. Simplify Perennial Borders as the First Step to an Easier Garden.

Remove or limit the number of perennials that are too enthusiastic and either spread too much or too fast. Eliminate or limit the number that demand frequent division and those that need constant grooming—staking, deadheading, cutting back, etc.

2. Substitute Shrubs for Some of the Perennials.

Shrubs are usually much less demanding than perennials and often offer season-long beauty.

3. Develop a New Attitude Toward the Lawn.

Perfect lawns in our climate demand more water than nature provides, toxic chemicals to kill grubs and weeds, fertilizers to push new growth, and frequent mowing to reduce the height of that growth. Learn to live with longer grass and to tolerate a few weeds. Reduce lawn area with mass plantings of ground covers, shrubs, or ornamental grasses.

4. If You Have Shade, Learn to Love It. It Ensures Easier Gardening.

Shade-tolerant plants tend to be easier to grow. As many are foliage plants, and pretty foliage looks attractive all season, they also require less care. They need no obsessive deadheading. And they don’t lean toward the light because they don’t need that much in the first place. Therefore, they rarely have to be staked.

5. Discover Container Gardening.

A container garden is fun and relatively little work. Tall plants in containers form moveable walls that can be used to enclose a patio and vines can be planted in pots on either side of an archway as an entrance. Container gardening can be a wonderful, creative outlet for gardeners with limited time, space, or energy - Sydney Eddison

Container flower

After her husband death, Eddison needed to downsize. A hip replacement created mobility issues, another wake-up call. The call of simplification beckoned.

The fun of perennial gardening was manipulating the blooming rotation, to always have waves of blossomed plants. She opted for a back-to-basics approach. Her mindset changed. “Nothing is perfect but a lot of it is beautiful,” she says.

Gardening has earned Eddison a philosophy degree in life and aging. “With old age, it’s not the things around you that need changing. It’s changing your point of view.”

Sydney Eddison lectures widely and is a frequent contributor to Fine Gardening magazine and other publications.