September 1, 2020

Gardening at Any Age

Start growing flowers with as little as a pot of soil and some seeds.

Jude Jones, age 73, has loved gardening since she was a child. For nearly 40 years, she has been tending to the award-winning flowerbeds she has created in her yard. For Jones, planting flowers is a form of artistic expression, a way to stay active, and a year-round hobby. Despite chronic health challenges, she and her gardens are still going strong.

Jude Jones

Growing up with a Love of the Land

Jones grew up on a dairy and potato farm in Wisconsin. She says, “As young children, my brothers and I would march into my mom’s garden with cups of sugar, pull up stalks of rhubarb, and stand in the garden eating dirty rhubarb. We didn’t know any different!”

Jones says, “My aunts, uncles, and grandparents all had gardens. A love of the land flourished. My mom would have me do the weeding, even as a child. She trusted me to know what are weeds and what are flowers. It’s in my DNA. I grew up with it and learned alongside her.”


Jude’s Own Garden

Jones began her first flower garden in 1974 when she and her husband purchased their home in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jones says, “We started by cleaning up sand burs, trimming trees, and creating our first strip of garden. Over time, the flowerbed areas grew and spread.” Jones now has eleven different garden areas, including a raised bed for tomatoes and cucumbers. She laughs, “It didn’t happen overnight. It took a long time to get the gardens where they are today.”

Jones says, “When I garden, I feel relaxed and calm. I’m enjoying myself! I love the earth, the soil, the plants, and the physical activity. It’s fun to be out there. A neighbor commented on all the ‘hard work’ I do. But for me it’s not work―it’s play!”

Gardening is generally a seasonal activity in Minnesota, but Jones finds ways to work on her gardens year-round. She says, “In the winter months, I have to shut the door on the gardens, but seed catalogs begin to arrive just before Christmas, and I read them carefully. There’s so much to be learned! I’m always planning the changes I want to make. I think about what worked and what didn’t work. I journal everything about the garden, and I sketch out where things will go. This helps me a lot in the spring. I just take out my notebooks and follow the plans. But I keep space open for change!”


Continuing Despite Health Challenges

In the 1990’s Jones was diagnosed with a type of scleroderma called CREST syndrome. Scleroderma is a chronic, autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects connective tissues. Jones says, “I had symptoms, but they weren’t severe. I hardly thought about it. I was given medications, and I went on with my life.”

Jones continues, “In the early 2000’s, I noticed I was short of breath when I did intense exercise or walked up an incline. Eventually, I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.”

The new diagnosis did not keep Jones from her flowers. She says, “When the respiratory therapist came to my house, he didn’t give me any slack. He said, ‘There’s no reason you can’t keep gardening. Just take your oxygen tank and move it along with you.’”

Jones says, “So now I use a portable, battery-operated oxygen concentrator when I’m out in the yard. I just tuck it into a bucket and tote it along. I’m not going to stop gardening. I may be slower, but I can still do it.”

Jones says that tending to her flowers is good for her physical and mental health. She says, “Gardening has a positive effect on my health. I can’t exercise like I used to, doing Zumba classes with my husband three times a week and going for long walks. But I am still active!”

Jones adds, “Luckily, I have a wonderful husband, who is a saint, and who asks every day, ‘What can I help you with? What can we get done?’ It would be a whole different story without his help.”

Gardening as a Form of Art

Jones has come to think of planting and maintaining flowers as a form of artistic expression. She says, “I can’t draw or paint. My palette is my garden.”

As the media for her art, she works with a combination of annuals, perennials, and seeds. She also does some container planting. She says, “Everything is big this year, and spreading!”

Jones’ favorite annuals to plant are zinnias (in the daisy family) and Victoria Blue salvia (a type of ornamental sage). She says, “I love planting zinnias. They are such happy little flowers. They come in so many colors, shapes, and sizes. Zinnias are so giving.”

When working with perennials, Jones favors sedum plants and hostas. She says, “There are many varieties. I like to mix and match and see what garden centers have to offer each year. Sedum can be used as a ground cover or can be taller. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has big, beautiful flowerheads. Hostas have a lovely pink flower. Around them, I tuck annuals here and there.”

Jones says, “My favorite flower color palette is purple and pink, with a little bit of ivory or pale white, and a touch of blue. I don’t care for loud red or orange flowers.” Jones laughs and adds, “That said, zinnias come in all colors, and they’re all acceptable.”


Gardening for Beginners, No Matter Your Health or Age

Jones says, “If someone is interested in starting a garden or a container plant, there is no reason that it can’t be done. Just decide you’re going to give it a try.”

She says, “For someone new, it’s so easy to put a plant in a pot, and give it love, water, and fertilizer. Then you can admire your beautiful work of art. Play with different colors of flowers and create your own palette.”

Jones hasn’t taken any classes or formal training, but she learns from hands-on experience and magazines. She says, “I absolutely devour magazines. If I don’t have a pile of magazines nearby, I’m a sad lady.”

Her advice to new gardeners is to be willing to take some risks with the plants. She says, “I’m not afraid to move a plant, or change it out with something else. I love playing with color, shapes, size, and form. I want to find out how it looks next to the plants near it.”


Gardens Give Back

Jones’ gardens won the Grand Residential Award in the “Blossoms Award” program in 2003 and 2009. Jones says, “All the effort really paid off. We were published on the city website, got an award paver for the garden, and had a ceremony with the mayor.”

In addition, Jones has garden parties every year. She says, “The gals come over, stroll around, and take pictures. We wear garden hats and gloves. We play with it and enjoy it! I make changes to the gardens each year. I want to make it interesting, so people want to come back and see it again.” She laughs when she says, “But some things stay the same. The zinnias are always there in the back, as a tall backdrop.”

Jude Jones

Evolving and Living Art

Jones has a philosophical approach to gardening. She says, “I often think about Thomas Jefferson, who was an avid gardener late into his life. One thing he said always stays with me.”

“Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.” – Thomas Jefferson

Jones says, “What he means by this is gardening is a process of change. A process of choosing something different. A process of being surprised, good or bad. Gardening is never done, and you can never know everything there is to understand about flowers. You are always learning something new.”