Though an old man, be a young gardener

My daughter finally has fulfilled my dreams of gardening in her beautiful “wild garden” next door.
As long as I can remember, I have dreamed of creating beautiful flower gardens—both in my waking hours and in my nighttime dreams.
As a little girl, I had a dream one night of the most beautiful “giant” pansies! For years, I have been searching for beautiful pansies and the perfect flower garden!
I always thought my garden would have lush rows of hollyhocks, cosmos, bachelor buttons, snapdragons, old-fashioned bleeding heart, asters, and zinnias in a rainbow of bright colours.
When we first moved to Kansas in the late 1960s, I began to create my “dream” gardens.
First preparing the ground, then planting the tiny seeds in rows and then splurging on my favourite perennials, I faithfully watered and weeded and expected the profusion of colour I had seen in my mother and grandmother’s gardens.
But, unfortunately, Kansas is not upstate New York, and it requires different cultivation of flowers.
Then, about 20 years ago, I read Violet Stevenson’s “The Wild Garden.” I knew immediately that Kansas is perfectly suited to the “wild garden.”
Last Saturday, I sat in my daughter’s “wild garden,” enjoying the sun and the riot of colours. There were huge sweeps of sunny yellow daffodils and purple vinca, and groupings of pink hyacinths, bright blue scilla, and purple primrose.
The forsythia was at its peak, the coral blossoms of the quince were exquisite, and the birds were singing with joy.
Her garden was so beautiful and looked so easy! But I knew better.
A wild garden is not a wilderness, said William Robinson, the man who first popularized the wild garden concept.
The wild garden features native flowers and other adaptable plants, is very sparing of water, and tries to create a retreat for butterflies, birds, small mammals, and beneficial insects.
But creating a wild garden takes a lot of work—and some resources.
For example, my daughter planted 200 Asiatic lilies last year, but did nothing like Robinson, who once planted 100,000 narcissus on his English manor property!
Robinson, who lived from 1837-1935, grew up in Ireland. In his early 20s, he went to England and worked in English gardens.
It was the height of the Victorian patterned gardens. But Robinson had another idea—why not let native flowers grow in a wild setting and plan your gardens around the natural features of the land.
Robinson, who also was a journalist, began writing his ideas. In 1870, at age 32, he wrote the very successful “The Wild Garden.”
His writings revolutionized British gardening. The informality in design and natural planting which he advocated was the foundation of the English cottage garden.
At age 50, Robinson bought a 16th-century English manor house and made beautiful gardens everywhere.
Until the day he died at the age of 97, he still was throwing seeds and bulbs from his wheelchair. Gardening was his life and kept him young.
Robinson reminds me of another famous gardener—Thomas Jefferson. Late in life Jefferson said, “I am still devoted to the garden. But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
How about you? If you want to be young, why not plant a garden?
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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