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 4-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":
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."