- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
Published on: March 3, 2009
Eck, Joe and Wayne Winterrowd. Our Life in Gardens. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
Practical and prophetic, particular and poetic, and entirely personal, Our Life in Gardens is a book well worth reading. Part memoir, and part garden book, it is a completely engaging and riveting book to enjoy, perhaps while sitting in a favorite chair in the garden on a sunny afternoon, or by the fire on a cool, wet day, when gardening might be more of an intellectual pursuit. Composed of nearly 50 essays arranged in alphabetical order, the book is termed by its authors a “gypsy trunk of this and that.” I’d think of it more as an old-time curiosity cabinet, a curio full of treasures to be pulled out and carefully savored, one by one.
Our Life in Gardens is written by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, founders of the Vermont garden design firm North Hill. They are also the authors of two other collaborative works, including A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden and Living Seasonally; The Kitchen Garden and the Table at North Hill. (Each has also written books individually). North Hill, which is a primary topic - but not the exclusive subject - of this book, is the creation of nature and Eck and Winterrowd. It is regarded by many people as one of the finest private gardens in the United States.
This book reads like an iterative conversation occurring during a friendly visit, incorporating a fine meal, and an informative (and informed) walk around the garden at North Hill. I often felt as if I were in the garden with Eck and Winterrowd. While the book is co-authored, it appears to be penned in a single, unified voice, the result perhaps, of the authors’ lifetime of shared personal and professional experiences, many of which have occurred within the context of the gardens they have cultivated together.
Again, the book is a highly practical gardening guide, which provides incredible detail about different kinds of plants and Eck and Winterrowd’s experiences with cultivating them. The authors are incredibly observant and provide much valuable information about garden design, as well. Descriptions are complete, Latin names are provided, and the illustration provided at the beginning of each essay is handsomely rendered.
Recently, I have been writing about the ephemeral nature of gardens. Eck and Winterrowd also note this in several places in the book. There is a certain poignancy to Eck and Winterrowd’s writing about the passage of time, an intimacy that is both heart warming and heart rending, the sharing of something as personal as a garden made together…a life made together.
As I read, I was with Eck and Winterrowd as they enjoyed their early gardening efforts in a “grand” apartment located at 89 Beacon Street, across from the Public Garden, sharing their joy in the chickens they raised there. (Chickens in a Beacon Street apartment…see, you must read the book). I learned about their Xanthrorrhoea Quadrangulata, an Australian native they acquired during a visit to the Los Angeles Arboretum, and which has grown into “a great potted ox of a plant” at their home in Vermont. They note and carefully (lovingly) describe the growth of individual plants, including a Japanese apricot, the way I note and describe the growth of my daughter.
Eck and Winterrowd have produced an extraordinary book that provides valuable and practical information about any number of plants, and about gardens, their design, and their value in our lives. This book moved and humbled me, because of its incredible combination of all things practical and the personal experiences it shares. For Eck and Winterrowd have written with an authentic voice about the sacred and ordinary act of gardening, about home, their favorite tools and things, domestic life, vocation and avocation, seasons, and journeys they have taken, together.
Eck and Winterrowd understand something key that draws so many of us into gardening: that fact that “gardens are infinitely imaginable.” But Eck and Winterrowd have also provided a window into the other kinds of journeys that we as gardeners take when we carefully, lovingly cultivate gardens, stepping into possibility, the journeys of the heart that all true gardeners – and those who aspire to garden – know.
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."
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