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.


  1. Beautiful! And congratulations!
    At 75, I’m still gardening every day and still a “plant geek”. The appreciation and love of nature only grow stronger.
    You inspire us all!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ann, the appreciation of nature does grow stronger as I get older. It is a comfort to be part of that. I hope I will still be gardening in one way or another at 75-you are an inspiration. best regards, Deborah

  2. Deborah, I always read and enjoy your posts but seldom take the time to comment. This one was too good not to comment. You truly have a unique voice as a garden writer; I hope your passion for writing about gardening stays as strong as your passion for gardening. Thank you for your inspiring words and perspective!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, I am always so pleased to hear from you. It means a lot to me, as you are a garden writer that I admire. Many thanks, Deborah

  3. Kathy Parsons says

    Happy Birthday. Here’s to another wonderful year amongst the flowers.

  4. Jane Cruickshank says

    But what both you and Al Goldner have done is leave a lasting imprint on so many gardens and even more gardeners. The landscape design you did with Al Goldner in 1985 still stands and is the basis for years of teaching a non- gardener the joys of working in the soil. The added bonus is Detroit Garden Works. Sheer bliss especially when the 68 has a lot of pluses…..

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jane, it is so satisfying that your landscape looks so beautiful-it is a testament to your care. You are every bit a gardener! all my best to you, Deborah

  5. Karen Knight says

    Lovely thoughts and good advice. Happy gardening into a new age – it is always different that is for sure. I am just verging on 67 and it is a marvel. Happy Birthday and thank you for your posts!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Karen, thank you for your birthday wishes-and for reading. That is what keeps me writing. all the best, Deborah

  6. Happiest of belated birthdays Deborah. You bring so much beauty to so many and Rob bringing buckets of so much beauty to you is incredibly appropriate. All the best, always.

  7. Diane Jaeger says

    What a beautiful post Deborah,,,, and Happiest of Birthdays!! I have never commented before, but read these regularly,,, and have been so impressed and touched by your work for quite some time. What you write here is so pertinent,, so ‘ right on ‘, and so from the heart and soul,,, 68? It is a good number that is serving you well! I am a garden designer as well,, not to your caliper,, but love what I do, and just recently turned 64,,, I too never meant to be this age, but here is it, and the only thing we can do now is revel in it all and be grateful for the experiences we have had, in life and in the garden. You inspire me!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Diane, it is always so satisfying when a person writes in to say what I have written means something to them. Thank you for that. All these letters re an inspiration to me! best regards, Deborah

  8. Lisa Yzerman says

    Happy Belated Birthday and I loved this post! My peonies garden you did for us is my favorite part of our backyard!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, how I loved getting your pictures of your peony bouquets! It was so thoughtful of you to send them to me. Many thanks, best, Deborah

  9. Dianne McKinnon says

    Love this article. It can be applied to many more things than peonies. Happy #68. Wishing you many more!!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Diane, thanks for your letter and birthday wishes. May we both have plenty more! regards, Deborah

  10. Oh My Gosh! What a wonderful column. Important lessons here. You made my day.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lori, it feels great to have gotten so many letters about this post. Its a party! best regards, Deborah

  11. Happy Birthday!! Sharing your skill, knowledge and passion is a gift to all of us gardeners ❤️ Thank you for your wisdom. I need to remember – there is purpose, meaning and beauty in every step of a life!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Abbe, a positive approach is easier, being a gardener. Nature is a nurturer to all. thanks for your birthday wishes. best, Deborah

  12. Loved this- great perspective and your blog always speaks to me. Happy birthday- you are a gift to us all.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Heather, the garden is a gift to me like no other. I would have a poor life indeed without it. I am certainly gardening differently than I did in the 20’s, but I am gardening nonetheless. all the best, Deborah

  13. Deborah Polansky says

    Happy Birthday! I turned 68 in January. Thanks for your gift of peonies and reflections on gardening , the fear of failure, and the potential of Plan E.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Deborah, ha, another 68 year old! The potential of plan E is considerable. Sometimes it takes that long. best regards, Deborah

  14. Silvia Weber says

    Dear Deborah,
    Wishing you a very happy belated birthday- and many happy returns of the Day!
    Obviously, you have much to live for, not the least of which includes an enduring love of, and for, Rob and peonies. His gift of those gorgeous Peonies would melt anyone’s heart.
    With lots of love and all best wishes,
    Silvia and Gerry
    PS: Aunt Teedie turns 101 July 8th!!!!
    See you soon!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Silvia, thanks for your letter. Yes, the 11th cruise is coming up! See you soon. best, Deborah

  15. A belated Happy Birthday to you Deborah…such a beautiful post to star my day today…thank you…and I hope you have many more wonderful birthdays

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Greg, thank you for your note. This was an essay that I wrote over the course of a week. It states the obvious-gardening is good for people. best, Deborah

  16. Amy Ryberg says

    Dear Deborah,
    Wishing you such a happy birthday! Wonderful reflection on aging, gardening, life lessons. I met you years ago when you were at Hughes Gardens. You encouraged me to try plants I’d never heard of, and I continue to practice that lesson. It’s been a joy to watch your development as a major force in the gardening community. Wishes for many more years of flowering!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Amy, Hughes Gardens! That was a very long time ago indeed. I am happy to hear you are still gardening-bravo. all the best, Deborah

  17. Barbara Snith says

    You have always been known as an landscape designer extraordinaire and now we can add philosopher,,,,,,,HAPPY BIRTHDAY

    Self appointed Pres of your fan club

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Barbara, it was a beautiful gift that set me to thinking-yes. thanks for your good wishes! best regards, Deborah

  18. Mary A Mahto says

    Beautiful post in everyvway. Happy Belated Birthday, looks like it was a gorgeous one for you. Peonies have also held a special place in this gardener’s life for as long as I was a school child and if the peonies blossomed some years earlier enough I brought them to my school teacher (cut from my mother’s garden in Minnesota.) As a previous post stated , you inspire us!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, it was a very good birthday indeed. When mine would bloom, I would take lots of them to my Mom so she could enjoy them too. She was always so delighted to get them. thanks for your letter. Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, many thanks for your letter. A garden is the best fun when it can be shared. all the best, Deborah

  19. Christine Beck says

    It seems your birthday was as special as you are. What a blessing to have people in your life that know exactly the perfect gift to make the transition from one year to the next go so smooth.
    All my best wishes to you.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Christine, I do have a terrific group, no doubt. Those peonies were miraculous to watch over the course of a week. all my best to you, Deborah

  20. Jeannine says

    Happy Birthday Deborah! Not only are you a very talented designer you have a gift of writing. Your words of wisdom make us all pause and think for a time. Our life journey is built upon our experiences but I like my Grandmother am saying I wish I were twenty years younger but know what I know now. We love your posts! Each one a gift to us! Blessings to you on your 68th.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jeannine, being older has its challenges. But there is plenty of good in it. regards, Deborah

  21. Cathy Dickson says

    Deborah, Belated Birthday wishes!! Such a beautiful gift from a warm and caring heart. You are only a few months older than I and I consider that I started my gardening path about nearly 60 years ago (I was about 8 or 10). Your thoughts resonate with me; each garden (through 4 homes) has started with common ideas and formed like the property wants them to be. They are never ‘done’ and weeds are the bane of my existence, but those gardens are a calm refuge from the real world. Thank you for sharing your home and work lives and such special gardens! Cathy

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cathy, writing these essays has been a pleasure for me-and hearing from other gardeners is the best part of all. thanks, Deborah

  22. Roberta Bresette says

    Happy Birthday Deborah! It is really lovely to be 68! 70 is much harder. I will be 78 soon so now looking at the 80 thing! I grew up on a farm in Iowa and there was a peony farm next door. I loved the rows and rows of peonies. I can still remember the lovely soft fragrance. It was hard to pick a favorite as every blossom was so incredibly beautiful! Peonies have such wonderful moist petals—-I wish my skin could have that same moist freshness. There should be peony lotion and face creams. Maybe that can be your next project??

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Roberta, those petals are truly amazing, yes. I miss my peony farm-but this bouquet was good. all the best, Deborah

  23. Happy Birthday, keep bending, stretching, growing. I have decided to be a hardy perennial. It is my wish for you.

  24. beautiful. Thanks for sharing your insights on life (I mean Peonies).

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jim, so good to hear from you. One can only hope to have an insight now and then!! best, Deborah

  25. I never was supposed to see 68. Twelve years ago I was given 3 to 5 years to live so I am well past my expiration date.
    I love gardening. What has kept up my spirits more than anything has been my four separate gardens around my neighborhood and each one has peonies. I don’t remember how I stumbled onto this web site, but I enjoy it so much!!

    Happy Birthday and many happy peonies in your future!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jean, I am happy to hear you are tending peonies. I cannot imagine the gardening world without them. thanks for you best wishes, Deborah

  26. Diane Anderson says

    Very happy and belated birthday! You are such an inspiration to us all. Please share what the small white flowers are in the back of the cart full of peonies. If it is a peony I must have it. I, too, have an extensive collection of peonies including my beautiful tree peonies. Best wishes to an incredibly talented and generous idol of mine. Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Diane, the little white flowers are cut branches of the shrub mockorange. I was amazed at how well they held up. all the best, Deborah

  27. Bon anniversaire mon cher Deborah! I am always inspired & influenced by your infectious passion for gardening! I always adore getting your notifications, I get excited, saying to myself, Oh Great another post from Deborah! I love Peonies too, in Florida, sadly they seem to not find zone 8 their favorite! Beautiful flower just like you! Bon Anniversaire mon cher !

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Suzanna, you should find a source for cut peonies when they are in season-I so enjoyed mine. best, Deborah

  28. Alicia Whitaker says

    Happy Birthday! Such an inspiring post. I share your love of peonies and look forward to seeing them all year. Sending you peony love!

  29. Deborah Norman says

    Thank you for your wisdom!
    Happy Birthday. Think of how much you’ve learned over these wonderful years. Please keep sharing.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Deborah, Learning and sharing is work worth doing. Thanks for writing! all the best, Deborah

  30. Sheryl Kammer says

    Beautiful written memories. Happy birthday.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sheryl, memories play a big part in every person’s life. I love mine.I am sure you love yours too. thanks for writing. all the best Deborah

  31. Carole in East Chatham NY says

    My birthday is in May, and I’ve always believed that has a lot to do with my love of gardening.
    Twenty five years ago I bought a 1790 brick Federal house with 65 acres. It has been a love affair with the house and the garden.

    The garden only came with a huge bed of peonies — or that was all that survived of the garden. Those peonies seem to be self propagating…and new ones just appear like divine magic every spring.

    I enjoy your posts…… keep them coming….. your writing and thoughts are inspirational.
    Carole in East Chatham

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carol,a May birthday for a gardener is a good birthday indeed. We both love peonies-right? Thanks for writing. all the est, Debrah

  32. Nancy Edwards says

    Happy Birthday!

  33. Happy Birthday to a multi talented woman, artist, designer, gardener, writer. I love your posts and your inspirations. You have touched and inspired many and I hope you continue to share your gifts.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Pat, I do believe that every person comes with talents. That includes you, Pat. I am happy to share. I am more than happy to hear from you.I am touched and inspired by your letter. thanks for writing. best regards. Deborah

  34. Moonlight says

    Happy belated 68th Birthday!

  35. Lisa at Greenbow says

    I loved reading ‘garden like you want to and be damned to those who don’t like it’, only you said it much more eloquently than I. Happiness is a garden with all that you love in it even it is the plop plop of peony plumes. The best to you always, enjoy your 69th year as well. Happy happy.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, how you grow your garden is your mission. Stay the course! I am right there with you. best, Deborah

  36. Paula popowski says

    Happy happy and many more! Your posts make me happy to be a designer.
    And those peonies!!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Paula, all of us designers share so much. Happy happy to you, too! kind regards, Deborah

  37. Frani Willis says

    I am seventy-four and still maintain my garden and the five acres surrounding it. I am adding native plants and trees to build a sustainable habitat for native wildlife, a wildlife habitat “garden”. I do find that I get less done as the work is tiring but I do the labor for all of it by myself (I am so blessed to have good health!). Oh, how I wish we could grow peonies and lilacs in South Georgia!!! Hugs

  38. Patricia Mullan says

    Lovely and inspiring. Thanks for sharing this and all the work and beauty you bring into our lives.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Patricia, your life and mine-we share some work and some beauty.Right? best regards, Deborah

  39. Happy Birthday to you, Deborah! Thank you for sharing your stories! They are so uplifting and inspire me to be better as a gardener and a woman.

  40. I loved this post, as I turned 68 on June 19! Yes flowers evoke memories, and peonies certainly do for me. My mom had several of them in our small Detroit garden and she always had lovely arrangements when they were in bloom. This year I discovered yellow peonies. A friend has grown one in her peony garden. It is just beautiful with a strong fragrance. I then saw my second one at the Farmers Market in Elk Rapids, MI. I was told it took two years to come into full bloom. It was large, fragrant and a perfect shade of yellow. Happy “shared” birthday Deborah. You delight and inspire.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nina, we have a relationship over the garden. I so appreciate that you read. And I appreciate that you take the time to write me about your gardening life. thanks, Deborah

  41. Happy Birthday

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Steve, thank you so much for your birthday wishes! I truly appreciate it. all the best, Deborah

  42. Susie Duquet says

    Beautiful post, as usual! My late father’s birthday was June !5th. Happy belated birthday to you, Deborah!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susie, your father and I share a date. I feel certain that the 15th of June is a moment we share. kind regards to you. Deborah

  43. Happy Birthday, Deborah! Loved this post!

  44. Happy Birthday, Deborah! This post really hit home!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Margaret, thanks for your birthday wishes. The garden is home for a lot of us. best regards, Deborah

  45. Happy birthday, Deborah! I share your love of peonies and was excited to read your essay and see your photos. Thank you for the lovely piece!

  46. Michaele Anderson says

    I loved this post and immensely enjoyed all the comments it inspired. You have not only made a visible difference in your immediate gardening world but also in the vastly expansive cyber world of gardening. We are all better, more knowledgeable and more self accepting gardeners thanks to Dirt Simple. Belated Happy Birthday and have a great year.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michaele, you have been a reader for a good many years-thank you. I so look forward to your comments. We are all better, given a garden-yes we are. best reagrds, Deborah

  47. nancy Bernstein says

    Deborah, i have enjoyed your posts for quite some time. This one…really settled right onto my heart. My mother died when i was three, I have ALWAYS loved peonies and have them in my garden. We had them all along our home growing up, but I only recently discovered it was one of my mothers favorites! Your description felt the way I feel about those stunning blooms! Thank you for your many years of beautiful writing, linking us to the earth. Be well, HAPPIEST of birthdays:)

  48. Dear Deborah,

    Happy, happy birthday! A wonderful blog to read this morning.

    What a momentous time it is to turn 68 — born in 1950 (me too), marking 50 years since h.s. graduation (guessing for you..in ’68), and then turning 68. . Exhilarating and breathtaking at the same time. Ours is a generation that has lived through enormous upheaval — The Vietnam war, political assassinations, duck-and-cover drills of the Cuban missile crisis era, civil rights protests, and a cultural revolution.
    Oh my, the things we’ve seen!
    And through all those stages of upheaval, I recalled from watching my mother ( ‘greatest generation’ ) was the sanctity of every-day rituals to keep order in your world. For her, it was first and foremost tending her garden. Unfortunately I didn’t pay close enough attention to how she actually made a garden. Instead, I did other things.

    Before I discovered your blog, I didn’t make a garden. But your teaching, designs, images, and elegant writing set me on a path to create spaces for living things. Now I have a garden.

    Thank you for all you’ve shared. The images in this post have made me re-think what peonies mean. They have a whole new textured and rich dimension that I’ll always think of as I join you in turning in 68.

    Wishing you a wonderful and continued celebration,

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Terry, so many thanks for your letter. I will remember it. I know you have been reading for a long time. I appreciate that. The impetus to write this blog was a seed that began decades ago with how I was raised. My Mom, a teacher, counseled me that if I were able to teach, I should. That seed sprouted, and has grown. For me, the writing is a way of sorting out how I feel about the work I do. But it is also about passing along what I have learned to the next generation of gardeners and designers. If anything I have written encouraged you to garden, then I am so happy. all the best to you, Deborah

  49. Liz Manugian says

    I join all the others in wishing for you many more happy, healthy gardening-filled years! Thanks for your inspirational birthday post. Just one year behind you in age, it is good to be reminded (lest we forget) that every step of our journey is meaningful and beautiful.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Liz, many thanks! Every step of the journey is important-as you say. Thanks again. all the best, Deborah

  50. Beautiful flowers for a beautiful occasion! Happy Birhday Deborah! My peonies did not bloom this year, so sad. I thoroughly enjoyed viewing your bouquet and sharing your birthday gift! What a delightful celebration!

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