“Write On, Newtown!” is the theme of the upcoming 2014 Newtown Labor Day Parade, Monday, September 1, celebrating the wealth of authors and illustrators who call Newtown home. One of those numerous scribes, Sydney Eddison, has been selected to serve as Grand Marshal of the parade.
Best known for her gardens and the knowledge of gardening she has shared over her 50 years as a resident of the town, Ms Eddison is a prolific writer. Not only has she published seven books on gardening, she has written two novels (unpublished), hundreds of articles for The New York Times, Litchfield County Times, and other publications, and is a poet.
Writing, she said, is one of the creative arts that has always been a part of her life.
“I was absolutely stunned [that the Parade Committee] asked me to be Grand Marshal,” said Ms Eddison, sitting in the kitchen of her antique home near the Paugusset Forest. “I’m deeply flattered,” she added. “I can think of so many people who have been engaged in the community in ways I haven’t been. When Beth (Caldwell, Parade Committee president) explained the theme was ‘Write On, Newtown!’ I felt better about being asked,” she laughed.
“Then I thought, what would Martin, my late husband, think of this? He was such a private person, but I think he would be pleased — and also amazed,” she laughed. She is honored to accept this recognition, she said.
Her path to gardening and writing was as winding as the planted plots that curve about the borders of her property. A graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, where she studied theater and stage design, Ms Eddison initially thought she wanted to make acting her career.
“But now, I can’t think of a life I would have hated more, living in a little 8 by 10 cubicle, with no windows, in a ‘resident house’ as they then called them,” she said, of her move to New York City and a less than enthusiastic venture into the world of acting.
She took a job teaching drama at Bennett College, and after a first “terrifying” year, found that teaching theater was something she enjoyed.
“Teaching theater was an important part of my life, for 25 years,” in various schools in New York and Connecticut, she said.
After her marriage to Martin Eddison, she began playing in the soil on their property, teaching herself and learning as she went along — and working on the novels she hoped to publish. She also began sharing her knowledge through the articles on gardening she contributed to newspapers and magazines. She is particularly thankful to two women who helped launch her writing career. Patricia Brown published Ms Eddison’s first story, and Joan Lee Faust was the editor of the gardening page of The New York Times for many years.
“[Joan Lee Faust] gave my writing credibility and wonderful exposure,” said Ms Eddison.
Writing is made up of words, and it is the music of words that draws this author in.
“I love words,” she exclaimed, “and Martin loved words, and my mother loved words. To use them and play with them is like people who like tools. I terrifically admire what I consider to be good writing, and I like the sound of words.”
Despite this love of words, writing was not always easy.
“I was dyslexic, growing up,” Ms Eddison said. It was only through hard work and a wonderful school situation that she overcame that obstacle. She began writing stories in high school, and poetry, and has not stopped writing since.
But it was an obituary of her friend, Helen Gill, in The Newtown Bee, that planted the seed for her first book on gardens, A Patchwork Garden — Unexpected Pleasures from a Country Garden. She was dismayed by the brief write up of a woman she knew to be a generous and marvelous gardener, she said.
Introduced through friends to Johnny and Helen Gill years earlier, she had marveled at the couples’ property.
“He was an architect, and a wonderful designer, and she could grow anything. I learned so much from how they had arranged the space in their gardens. I wondered, how could someone who had lived in this town all this time, and who had given so many plants to other gardeners — gone overboard, really — be so unrecognized? It got me to thinking,” said Ms Eddison, “that my own garden is a patchwork from all kinds of people; but especially from Helen and Johnny Gill.”
Although her gardens have evolved and devolved in the last several decades, she still treasures the lamb’s ear, heirloom pearl bush, and the light blue Siberian iris given to her many years ago by Helen Gill.
With the inspiration for her first book in mind, “I sent a note to an acquisition editor I had met along the way. He called and asked for an outline. I wrote down a few ideas, and he said yes. They sent me an advance for $10,000, which was very intimidating, and I began to write slavishly,” she recalled.
She has written six more gardening books since then. Ms Eddison is the author of A Passion For Daylilies — The Flowers and The People, The Unsung Season: Gardens and Gardeners in Winter, The Self-Taught Gardener — Lessons From a Country Garden, The Gardener’s Palette — Creating Color in the Garden, Gardens to Go — Creating and Designing a Container Garden and Gardening for a Lifetime — How to Garden Wiser As You Grow Older.
A Patchwork Garden is still her favorite, even though she struggled through a false start with the book, before she found the story line, she confessed.
“It was deadly to read! I was in tears, and I had had such fun doing the gardens,” she said. It was like a switch went on, she said, when she suddenly realized it wasn’t to be a book all about the “how to’s,” but rather, the story of “two very unlikely people. I found it was the story of Martin and me, and all the people who have added to that patchwork garden,” she said. “Because I loved the people, and loved the land, then the book became fun. I finished it in two months.
“Writing is an interesting job,” Ms Eddison said, and she tends her words with the same care bestowed upon her gardens. “The thing with a book is that by the time you let it go, it’s on its own. I work very hard, but I have learned not to put in a lot of extraneous stuff. If it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t need to be said. Subtraction,” she said, “is a beneficial way to think about writing.”
That paring down of words is the attraction to writing poetry, said Ms Eddison. “I’m getting older. There’s not that much time left to say the things I want to say, and to say less things, on a different level. It’s easy to love a garden, but when life begins to gather itself around a small amount of time, you’ve got to look deeper. Poetry lets you go deep, or it isn’t real. It has got to be a kind of truth that is painful; and beauty is painful, too,” she suggested.
That words come when one is quiet, she said, is a lesson learned from her dear friend, the artist Peter Wooster. A stroke left him unable to speak or paint. He turned to collage, and Ms Eddison has worked with him, pasting images precisely as he conveys to her “in so few words.” They work together, mostly in silence.
“My advice to writers?” Ms Eddison said. “Sit down and shut up. In the silence, come the words.”
She admitted, though, that she might have more than a few more words left to share. “I think,” she said, “that I have one more book in me.”
The 2014 Newtown Labor Day Parade sets forth at 10 am, Monday, September 1. Ms Eddison will lead the way, on stage at last, and encouraging all to “Write On, Newtown!”