A Few Thoughts On Turning 68

June 15th was my 68th birthday. I had never intended or planned to be 68, but there it was, and here it is. I will admit the idea and the reality of it stung some. Turns out I did not have to go that milestone alone. Rob and I have worked together 26 years, meaning he knows me fairly well. He knew I was coming up on a moment threatening to pitch me into the weeds. His idea was to counter that with peonies. Lots of them. He has good instincts. It is no secret that I have a big love for peonies. In the early 1990’s, when we first started working together, I had rows and rows of peonies lined out like crops in a big block in one big section of my 5 acres. I would guess I had peonies numbering in the hundreds of plants. Divine, this. Every year, buffalo grass came up between the peonies. Did I plan for that grass?  No. Those peonies and that unexpected gorgeous grass was an unforgettable experience. The day before my birthday, bucket loads of peonies and cut branches of mock orange were delivered to the store. I was flooded with good memories.

Rob arranged and set the bouquet pictured above on my conference table.  A 68th birthday was beginning to look a little better. I am just as enamored of peonies now as I was 45 years ago. Happily, some things in a gardening life stay the course. It is good to know that despite the years that have gone by, my interest in plants is as strong as ever. And the interest in certain plants is a flame that still burns bright. I have no peonies in the landscape and garden at home that I have tended for the past 20 some years. But I have planted lots of them for clients. I am satisfied that I have done some small part to keep peonies a part of the landscape.

I have been a gardener for 45 years. I have been a landscape and garden designer for near as long. So what would I have to say after all these years in the profession, at the age of 68?  Every experience is an opportunity to add to your knowledge and understanding. Take that opportunity, and hold it close. Trust your own instincts. How you garden does not have to work for anyone else but you. If you design for yourself, indulge your eye and your inclinations. If you garden for others, be sure you represent your client a little more than you represent yourself.

Failure in the garden and landscape can be a good friend, truly. Fear of failure is mostly about fear. Failure is an emotionally charged word for what ought to be called plan B. The A plan is not necessarily the best plan. I have seen some E plans that were quite impressive. E plans are A plans that have been rethought, reconsidered, reworked, polished, and tuned up. Your E plans might be good, should you give them a chance. Every gardener matures, and evolves. Evolution is a process that can inform every gardening effort, if you let it. Give the eye that God gave you a chance to be.

Under no circumstances do I believe that the ability to generate great design is a gift. Great designing is the outcome of the mix of hard work, experience, imagination and nerve. Every person comes with a lot of things, standard issue. A confident and coherent voice surely comes with a person hood, though it may take some time to mature. That voice of yours just needs a free rein and some nurturing.  I do subscribe to certain gardening and design practices, as they work for me. What works for me is no more and no less than just that. Every gardener needs to discover what works for them, and proceed accordingly.  No doubt the best part of tending a garden is that there is the opportunity to team up with nature and make something grow. We all do that differently.

I know the cultivar names, history and growth particulars about all of these peonies. Rob knew that would be so. I did a good job growing peonies. That ability to grow them was not so special.  I wanted to grow them, so I took the time to learn how. But these cut flowers were indeed special. This beautiful and fragrant birthday bouquet conjured up gardening memories spanning many years. In my opinion, the best design in the garden and landscape calls up those memories and moments that are important.

I photographed my birthday peonies every day, after I had taken some time to simply enjoy them. They made me remember why I became a gardener. They made me certain that I had made a good choice to become a landscape designer. Turning 68 doesn’t change that.

Some blooms held perfectly for better than a week.

The Coral Charm peonies maintained their form, but the color faded to a creamy pale yellow.

Just a few days ago, the petals began to drop. I could hear them hitting the table surface. That was a new experience of peonies. I cannot really explain why that sound was so enchanting. Except to say that I just turned 68.

Al Goldner once told me that the only regret he had as a landscape designer was that he was never bold enough. That has always stuck with me, but at 68 I understand what he meant. There is time to do something with that. There is purpose, meaning and beauty in every step of a life.

Comments

  1. Happy Belated Birthday, Deborah! I, too, am a lover of Peonies and your bouquets make me sigh with delight. Thinking of you and your birthday whisks me back to Mr. Hughes and his exceptional delight in gardening. He was a kindly character. I so wish I had kept the double bloodroot he gave me when we moved! Here’s to many more birthdays – I’m right behind you!

  2. Deborah, Belated Happy Birthday Wishes! Thank you for sharing your gift of design, your writing, insights and photos. I think a book compiling your top posts would sell extremely well and immortalize your work/insights.
    I am late in responding as I have been to my aunt’s funeral (age 89) in New Orleans. Her life was celebrated by her family (many children, grandchildren and great-grands) and friends since she lived every day as the life of the party, young at heart, with a strong faith, a creator of beautiful spaces and parties, happy children and adults. She outlived two husbands and a son and was my father’s baby sister. I also visited my sister-in-law who, at a very young 61, is about at the end of her life. She too is a beautiful, generous, lively and fun lady with a deep spirituality who spread joy among her family, children, grandchildren and friends. Sad for my aunt, tragic for my sister-in-law, but both would say this is why we should all Love Each Other Day of our Lives and Get the Most of Life Each Day. Blessings to all of the Beautiful people who read your wisdom. Your shop is on my bucket list!

  3. Deborah,

    The generosity and grace with which you share wisdom offers such a light to the world. It is so rare to find any content with the authenticity and positive honesty that you uphold. This post in particular is monumental in the sentiments it offers–i will print it and keep it nearby for a frequent reminder of the insights. You are such a light in this world…I hope you find peace with 68..and 69..and 70… as so many hearts celebrate your gifts; you must join the celebration. Bright blessings.

  4. Ruth Wolery says:

    Happy Belated Birthday Deborah,
    I am so happy for you and your peonies. I have a few and do love them too. I admire your gardening and all you do.
    Thank you so much for sharing. I belong to 2 garden clubs and participate in our flower shows. It is a wonderful way to meet nice friends to share and grow.
    Ruth Wolery – Ohio

  5. Chela Canler says:

    Dear Deborah. Even if I don’t know you personally,(yet) I can tell how beautiful inside and out you are. Such an inspiration. So happy that I found your blog.
    I too, will be 68 in July (27) and I feel blessed. Happy birthday !

  6. Sue Lowery says:

    Happy Birthday! I too, love your blog and love your peonies. I have one that belonged to my great grandmother, and was passed down to my grandmother and then to me. These are truly spectacular.

  7. Linda Johnson says:

    Thank you for such lovely thoughts about turning 68 Deborah. I will be turning 68 July 21 and I too have been thinking about what a long time that is and how many years of gardening I have done.

    Your blog has been such an inspiration to me and given me so many ideas and encouragements. You are so transparent with your experiments and successes. You make artistic gardening seem easy and I know it is not. You have such an eye for what works and you work hard too.

    Happy Birthday and may this year be blessed with many beautiful days !

  8. Ana Pflueger says:

    Happy birthday Deborah Silver! You’re a true artist at heart.

  9. Charisse Andrews says:

    Happy Birthday to you. I also love Peonies, and recently added a new book Peonies, by Jane Astoe to my library. How lucky you are that they bloom in time for your birthday! I wish you many, many more happy years in your gardens where the senses take delight in the movement of a butterfly and the bloom of a flower, feeding your spirit through thick and thin. Blessings to you in the coming year.

  10. Nature will keep you forever young Deborah

  11. Susan Molina says:

    Happy, Happy Birthday! Wishing you many more years in the garden…

  12. Nella Miller says:

    Dear Deborah, happy birthday! I read each and every post coming to my inbox, although I rarely respond, I am so appreciative of your writings…you have many gifts….
    Your thoughts and expressions here about gardening and life, reaffirm my love of gardening and Nature…where I am happiest! I am in my 68th year as well, I have been gardening a long time….it has saved me many times…I look forward to your posts….they are always a pleasure to read first thing in my day! Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Nella, thank you for reading! all the best, Deborah

    • Jennifer Taylor says:

      What a beautiful post Nella. I feel the same way, yet I could not express myself as eloquently as you. Thank you for speaking for me as well. Happy Birthday dear Deborah!

  13. Pat Parks says:

    I’m 69 in September mockorange AND peonies?!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Love your words and work. Stay bold, for sure, and happy 68th year!!

  14. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

    Happy 68, Deborah. Keep on playing.

  15. cynthiawoodyard says:

    Thank you! I’m right here with you, yes! Be bold!

  16. Birthday greetings from Canada!

    Lovely post, and lovely peonies, Deborah. It may be your birthday, but your blog is such a gift and inspiration to your readers.

  17. I felt the same way about turning 40. Dont think 68 will feel any better. Love peonies but what helped more was watching Golden Girls. Made getting older look much less scary. Happy birthday!!!

  18. Deborah, I too will turn 68 in August. My son’s birthday is June 15. I love reading everything you write and photos you post. I have always loved to garden and you have inspired me to strive for perfection. My planters are more beautiful each season because of you. Thank you!

  19. I too am a big peony fan, and I love every shot of your birthday bouquet. It’s just lovely, and the later pics of it as it ages are stages that we we seldom see in photos. They are lovely too. Your post is gracefully written. Happy Birthday!

  20. Christina says:

    Dear Deborah,

    First and foremost, Happy 68th. And what an astoundingly beautiful bouquet with which to mark the occasion. I remember a post of yours from a few years ago about your scrapbook of peony photographs from a convention you attended when you were, well, a much younger, but equally enthusiastic, fancier of peonies. When my siblings and I sold the wonderful New England farmstead that had been in our family for three generations, the most important memento I took from it was a Festiva Maxima peony that had been planted by my grandmother and tended by my mother for well over half a century. It is now flourishing in central New Jersey and the sight of it in bloom every May never fails to transport me to another time and place.

    In his book On Old Age (and elsewhere), Cicero had a few thoughts on gardening that seem apt on this, your 68th birthday:

    “By means of our hands we struggle to create a second world within the world of nature… I follow nature as my surest guide, and resign myself with an implicit obedience to her sacred ordinances… If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need.”

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