The Cedars of Downton

With this post, I’m starting an occasional series on how we can design and use our landscapes to support people’s desire and efforts to age in place.

It’s such a timely and important topic that I’ve been struggling with how to get started and how to organize my thoughts on the subject.

So on this, the day on which the final episode of the series is airing in the U.S., I’ve done what any loyal Downton Abbey fan would do and asked: what would Maggie Smith’s character suggest? True, the opinion of other personalities on the show have often been sought on matters large and small. But it’s Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, who has had the most succinct, always insightful and never sugar coated advice.

I’ve no doubt the Countess would tell me just to suck it up and get on with it (although she’d say it far more wittily than that). But her first reaction may well have been: “What, exactly, is ‘aging in place’?” After all, this is a woman who didn’t know what a “weekend” is. And it’s actually a great question.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define “aging in place” as the “ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.” Most media sources use the phrase to describe the desire of older adults to continue living in their existing homes, rather than moving to a nursing home or in with adult children. And in a slightly different twist, some retirement communities have begun using the term in their marketing materials, offering the over-50 crowd an opportunity to age in place – once you’ve moved to their community.

But I’m not sure the nuances really matter for my purposes. Perhaps you intend to live in your current home for as long as you can. Or maybe you’ve downsized (like the Dowager Countess) to more modest accommodations. Regardless, if you own or are responsible for some kind of outdoor space — and you’re wondering how that space might support you as you get older — this series will be for you.

And that brings me back to Downton. I’ve always been struck by how few scenes in the series have been set in the kinds of glorious flower gardens for which the English are so famous. Instead, the horticultural stars of the show have been those grand Cedars of Lebanon that frame the manor house in every episode’s opening shot.

I’m guessing the producers chose to feature the cedars to help convey the status and longevity of the Crawley family. But isn’t it great they picked a tree that only gets more beautiful as it ages — and that can actually take a century (or two) to become truly stunning?

In my backyard, I have a lovely specimen white oak, which is probably in its late-20’s to mid-30’s — just around the age society tells us we’re at our most beautiful.

But my neighbor has this, which is probably in its mid-200’s, and I’m very, very jealous:

Old White Oak

Somehow, it seems like just the right image for my new series on aging in place.

photo credit: Highclere Castle – july 2012 via photopin (license)


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