I turn 50 this year, and it’s time for a garden redo.
Last year, my husband acknowledged his own milestone birthday by examining his somewhat balding head (I like it) and his very graying beard (I really like that). Then he made an appointment for a physical—in the 20 years we’ve been married, the first one that I didn’t make for him (or threaten divorce if he didn’t go).
My husband bemoans the fact that at 50, there aren’t many redos left in life. He utters such clichés as, “The hay is in the barn now,” and “That field’s already plowed.” I counter that some redos are still possible. So I’m going to acknowledge this hallowed year with a garden redo (pronounced, Southern-fried French style, as “gar-DAN ree-do”).
Of course, I have an advantage over my husband: I planned to get old all along. In my family, women peak in their 70s. Yes, the knees go, the feet swell, the wrinkles come and the hair whitens, but the Milner women all live to ripe old ages, having lots of fun and displaying plenty of verve along the way. They take those last 30 years and, like a scarlet red oak, they show off their colors long after everyone else has faded. I intend to do the same; in fact, I look forward to it.
But—and there’s always a but—I’m practical. What my much younger self did in the garden is not what my 50-year-old self does now (or can do). Each spring, I’m profoundly grateful to that 30-something Cinthia who had the foresight to plant the thousands of bulbs I now enjoy—Scilla siberica, Spanish bluebells, daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinth. (I can call it “foresight” now, but at the time, it was gardening insanity. As you get older, history gets revised.) So without that part-time gardener I’ve always dreamed of having, there’ll be no repeat of that feat.
Besides, it’s time for a makeover. Although the profusion of foxgloves, hollyhocks, delphiniums, daisies and irises is lovely, maintaining a cottage garden requires a minimum of four hours of backbreaking work—each day, all summer. Mine does, anyway. And those days are gone.
Instead, I hereby declare that my garden shall age with me. I intend to replace (almost) every bleeding heart and lily of the valley with azaleas, framed by a backdrop of mountain laurel and rhododendron. The new look shall rival the gardens of quintessential Biltmore Estate horticulturist Chauncey Beadle, who spent 60 years developing the grounds there. Osmanthus and gardenias will go where hostas once swayed, and peonies will stay put (a grateful nod to my college roommate’s well-designed Greenville, S.C., garden). Besides, who would ever replace a peony? Till death do us literally part, their heavy flowers will still plop down on the path that trails my perennial border.
But here’s my husband’s point: “I thought this whole gar-dan redo was based on the premise that we’re too old to maintain a garden that requires a lot of maintaining.” I nod.
He’s obviously getting the idea when he fills in my unspoken words: “But we’re not too old to completely redo the garden, which will likely kill us in the process?”
This is why we’ve stayed married for 20 years: He totally gets me. “Precisely,” I say, smiling and planting a kiss firmly on that old gray beard.
Thus, I plan a gar-dan-redo day, inviting all my friends who’ve turned 50 recently (or soon will). Showing their age, my friends all grumble. Oh ye of little faith, I say, many hands make light work, even if the collective age of those hands is more than 500 years. Think of the dirt they’ve seen; who better to celebrate a gar-dan redo with me? My friends ask what refreshments come at the conclusion of our master task. I smile.
One friend can’t garden, but she sure can cook. My table runneth over with culinary delights, so off to the gar-dan we go, amazingly lighter in step—and younger in spirit.
[Cinthia Milner lives in Leicester.]