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A Few Tactics of Sydney Eddison

by Mary Jasch

Sydney and Martin Eddison moved into their Newtown, Connecticut, home in 1961 and that spring Sydney began gardening. But where to start?

“My idea about a garden was that I should find a flat place and make a border. I did just that. There wasn’t anything wrong with it but it didn’t fit with the landscape. That was frustrating,” she says.

She began to draw upon what she knew: theater, color and shapes. As an adult, she taught and directed theater and designed and built stage sets. So how does this connect to her as a gardener?

“I did things by feel. I didn’t approach the garden intellectually. One thing I did do was measure the whole piece of land. I put in the big rocks, house and barn and put them in the plan. I looked at the plan but nothing told me about the landscape. I looked at the oddball diamond-shaped piece of land and nothing helped. This was a lot bigger than any stage I ever worked on. Anything I did had to be big. I knew when you put a six-inch plant next to a 40-foot tree, you have a problem.

“I laid out a spine from the house. I knew the garden had to hang on that. The bank was a huge help early on. The rhododendrons that that I planted in the 1960s started to make an understory to the woods.”

Today at 49 years old, the rhododendron, other shrubs and conifers have spread out, taking up space in abutting garden areas and lawn. But that’s fine with Eddison, who is downsizing perennial numbers and increasing groundcover. Her goal these days is minimal maintenance, while keeping it beautiful as ever.

“To garden is upbeat. It’s why it’s worth everything to keep it as some fun,” says this 84 year-old wispy woman who’s just out book is called Gardening for a Lifetime (Timber Press). “There’s no way I would want to make it smaller.”

She has the garden of her life: primroses her mother would have loved; plants from mentors and friends; a landscape sculpted by herself and Martin; a personal evolution with her land, plants and critters; a garden touched by so many friends; and plants from her garden that will live on in others’ gardens.

It is in keeping with her childhood growing up near woods and farm fields, playing outdoors in mud, creek, forest and farms. “I was a real hick,” she says. “Not a semi-hick – a real hick. We never wore shoes in the summer.”

(What country or suburban child did? Only today’s un-encouraged children.)

“I grew up in the country with no companions except for my brother and the farmer’s son. All children who grow up like that learn to look at the things around them – plants, creatures. We sniffed and chewed our way through the landscape. If something looked good we ate it and we’re still alive to tell about it. It makes you look at color, shapes, and whether things were furry or slimy.”

What is her favorite part of the garden? “The Woodland Garden. It’s everything that means something to me – what I grew up with. The unimproved woods are really wonderful. I love little brooks. My brother and I played in little brooks.

“It’s all part of the Woodland Garden. It’s an unspoken level of comfort and a kind of communication. It’s a form of being in the woods. It’s a form of communicating to me. It is the most forgiving. Erica has never laid foot in it.” (Erica spends six hours a week maintaining the garden.)

Looking out her window toward the woods, the garden rolls its arms around the private land. Maples and hickories rise up beyond, caressing the whole. Tame plants beneath the forest trees step down the embankment to tamer plants and eventually into sunlight and warmth of the enclosure – a greensward smooth and soft inviting the visitor and eye to the woodland beyond.

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