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Wind in the Maples: A Visit with Sydney Eddison

by Mary Jasch

Looking from Sydney Eddison’s Newtown, Connecticut home, the back garden slopes inward, enveloping, embracing, cuddling the visitor. Forest rises above the garden on all sides, trees shooting skyward. At the far end of the front-and-center lawn, crescent-shaped beds point the way to the gate to woodland and life beyond.

This is a spiritual garden, a work of passion made for no other purpose than for sharing with husband, family and friends.

“Even I am simply astounded,” she says of her 2 ½-acre garden. “It wasn’t meant to be something other than our life. I just loved doing it. The intent was not to make this enormous garden. I was just so enamored of the activity.”

On this stroll from house to Woodland Garden, we head out across the lawn. Onto woodsy path we step with bright blue brunnera greeting us at the gate.

Inside, zillions of wild flowers ring a vernal pool in the garden they call home – the part of the garden that Eddison loves most. This is real woodland habitat tucked inside an 800-acre state forest. Eddison just happens to own it and care for it. (She also happened to build a rock channel for an ephemeral stream that comes out of the mountains and into the vernal pool.)

American, English and Japanese primroses of yellow, red, white, and pink fancy up the path. More brunnera, exotic Jack-in-the-pulpit, marsh marigold, wood poppy, rising ostrich fern, phlox…. Lamium with a yellow flower joins native and exotic wild flowers.

All primroses that escape the beds eventually get put back. All are treasured. There are over 500 species of primrose worldwide. Eddison says primroses don’t really like it here. They like it overcast and cool, with rain and under snow, but Japanese primroses do best in this climate.

Back through the gate, a grass path heads upslope beside a colorful mix of wild flowers to the right including multi-colored hellebore and corydalis. Corydalis is everywhere: yellow, white, mauve, pink. Soon we will reach a terraced hillside planted under towering wild hickories and maples out in “the field.”

On the left, the Wild Garden, hardly touched by human hands, is covered with Geranium macrorhizum. This garden is generally left alone and weeds are allowed to grow here until they get taller than the plants. On its edges, Eddison planted chartreuse hostas – ‘Sum & Substance’ and ‘Gold Edger’.

With a turned-around look across the property, soft green colors and shapes caress and sooth the spirit. Flowing bright green Japanese maple floats under cherry. The vignette brings one back to childhood when lying down in a natural lawn soaking up sun and scent was a pleasure.

Up above in the rhododendrons and conifers of “The Northwest Corner,” in the uppermost terrace on the civilized side of the stone wall, a path takes us next to “the field,” once forested, then cleared by Eddison and her husband after realizing they needed a view for their new garden in the early ‘60s. Now trees reclaim the field and little openness remains, but daffodils still bloom in springtime.

Just as events in the surrounding forest cause blow downs and “natural pruning,” always resulting in some species’ new release on life, so they do occur in a garden. Various rhododendrons had been crushed by a fallen oak and disfigured by winter burn, so Eddison cut them to the ground. Today they are lush. “That’s when I discovered there is life after disaster,” she says. “It’s the give and take over the years. It makes you kind of understand life some.”

Planted trees and shrubs accompany the rhododendron. Wild flowers such as pulmonaria with softly mottled leaves and muted blossoms, and delicate-looking epimedium, sprinkle beneath them. The rhododendrons have been allowed to grow and form the protective shield of the garden. Eddison points to a lovely Delaware Valley White azalea: “This is what it would like to be if you didn’t take measures.”

The path circles lower and switches back between the rhododendron and perennial borders. The hillside seems naturally terraced in a trio of gardens akin to forest structure: uppermost forest and “field,” rhododendrons and deciduous trees (understory), perennial border and lawn (herbaceous forest floor).

Cyochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ is pearl bush – an old-fashioned exquisite gem sure to be planted by this visitor. Its weeping fountain of white tissue-like flowers is perfect with silvery iris leaves and the muted flower colors of pink corydalis and dappled lungwort.

Walking past an enkianthus planted 32 years ago, Eddison pats its trunk and says: “It hasn’t got a single sin.” Passing by a Chamacyparis obtuse ‘Fernspray Gold,’ she notes: “I absolutely love it. It’s like a dancer. When the wind blows it sort of sways in the most lovely way.”

Day lilies weave in and out of shrubs, small trees and ground cover in the perennial border, where once they put on the entire July show. Golden Full Moon Maple, Acer shirasawanum ‘aureum’, is the newcomer here planted in honor of her husband Martin. The little chartreuse tree is a golden beacon. A wide silver river of Lamb’s Ears edges the entire slope.

Inside the house, the table is set with four vases of bright flowers all just picked from the gardens and artfully arranged: primula, cherry, tulip, narcissus. The garden is brought to table.

Eddison makes no bones about the people who have helped her in the early days when she knew nothing except enthusiasm and desire, and throughout the years with new ideas. Later, people came to help her maintain the garden and just to see the garden of a woman who wrote seven wonderful gardening books.

“One of the most important aspects of the garden is the people who have helped me. It’s also about the people who come to see but it’s about ‘us’ – my husband and me. It wasn’t for anything. It was for us and our friends and the people we loved and were fond of.”

Sitting on a bench vernal poolside, sun warming, house in the distance, muted red of old barn, no sound but birds and wind in the maples.

See a few of Sydney Eddison's self-taught tactics here.

Sydney's new book, Gardening for a Lifetime, is a wonderful read: universal yet personal, contemplative, emotional and insightful yet perfectly practical with LOTS of fabulous tips that work. Check out her events and books here.

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published April 28, 2010

Photos to enlarge

Sydney Eddison & Phoebe

The loving land. Viburnum carlesii sweet as vanilla cream

Red barn and pollarded Seven Sons Tree on the way to Woodland Garden

Entrance to Woodland Garden

Wild Flower path around vernal pool

English & American primroses

Woodland riot of color

A spot of sparkling tiarella, anyone?

Arum & brunnera in the Wild Garden

A garden to behold

Terraced gardens like giant embracing arms

No sound but birds and wind in the maples

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