Our Life in Gardens

Our Life in Gardens

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by Joe Eck, Wayne Winterrowd

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This is the third book we have written together, though separately we have written others . . . But to say ‘written separately' makes no sense, for when two lives have been bent for so many years on one central enterprise—in this case, gardening—there really is no such thing as separately."

With these words, the renowned garden designers Joe Eck


This is the third book we have written together, though separately we have written others . . . But to say ‘written separately' makes no sense, for when two lives have been bent for so many years on one central enterprise—in this case, gardening—there really is no such thing as separately."

With these words, the renowned garden designers Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd begin their entertaining, fascinating, and unexpectedly moving book about the life and garden they share. The book contains much sound information about the cultivation of plants and their value in the landscape, and invaluable advice about Eck and Winterrowd's area of expertise: garden design. There are chapters about the various parts of their garden, and sections about particular plants—roses and lilacs, snowdrops and cyclamen—and vegetables. The authors also discuss the development of their garden over time, and the dark issue that weighs more and more on their minds: its eventual decline and demise. Our Life in Gardens is a deeply satisfying perspective on gardening, and on life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd have collaborated on another fine book. Our Life inGardens is a charming, helpful, and confident text, a guiding hand that turns into a reassuring hug.” —Ken Druse, author of The Passion for Gardening

“For more than thirty years, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd have been gardening with extraordinary, indeed legendary, results. Part memoir, part omnium-gatherum of horticultural wisdom and practical advice, Our Life in Gardens is at once literate, learned, sensible, and, often, sheer luscious poetry. There are delights to be sampled on every page. From a cultivated life, they have brought forth, once again, a cultivated book.” —Philip Gambone, author of Beijing

“What a treat it is to settle down with Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd's Our Life in Gardens. Part memoir, part stories of plants and design, this volume radiates charm and humor while offering precious tidbits of wisdom. A delicious read.” —Page Dickey, author of Duck Hill Journal: A Year in a Country Garden

“This is a wonderful book. If you are already a gardener, this will spur you on to new heights. If you are thinking about being a gardener, it will offer you a new world.” —Roxana Robinson, author of Cost

Dominique Browning
Once you wander into this book, you won't be able to sit still for long…what with having to scurry around looking for paper and pen to take notes on just a few more plants you must have, and leaping up to consult the pictures in your American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. This is a generous, thoughtful, inspiring book…Eck and Winterrowd are funny, affectionate, wise and snobbish exactly when you want them to be.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

"Plants, like words in poetry," observe Eck and Winterrowd (founders of the Vermont garden design firm North Hill), "are both beautiful in themselves and also for the associations they trail behind, the histories they have in the world and in one's own life." In nearly 50 erudite and entertaining essays stretching alphabetically from Agapanthus to Xanthorrhoea quadrangulate, Eck and Winterrowd share the history of their Vermont garden, writing about the plants they have lived with, nurtured and nourished, in a sort of inverse family memoir, where the parent remembers the children-the trouble-free, the troubling and the troubled. "Helleborus orientalis," for example, "is an entirely amiable plant," while the "wisteria flower most freely under abuse... violent root pruning and frequent hacking back of top growth to encourage abundant flower." Any gardener may find its specific (and sometime technical) advice helpful, but walkers among gardens and those who dream of gardening will find special pleasure in plant lore and history and in the lucid descriptions that render them visible. Eck and Winterrowd describe their book as "a mixed bag, a gypsy trunk of this and that," but treasure chest is more accurate; the essays are gems, not baubles. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Garden designers Eck and Winterrowd (coauthors, The Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden and Living Seasonally: The Kitchen and the Table at North Hill) take us back to their garden, North Hill, in an essay collection to be especially savored on cold, snowy winter nights while eagerly awaiting spring. The short essays cover everything from boxwood to primroses to vegetable gardens and allow the authors to share their favorite plants, their successes and failures, the trials and rewards of gardening in a cold climate, and the evolution of their gardening, both indoors and out, over several decades. Packed with useful information and myriad plants, lovingly described, for gardeners to try in their own gardens, their book also eloquently conveys the importance of plants and gardening in their lives. Lyrically written, this true pleasure is recommended for public and horticultural libraries.
—Sue O'Brien

author of Duck Hill Journal: A Year in a Count Page Dickey

What a treat it is to settle down with Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd's Our Life in Gardens. Part memoir, part stories of plants and design, this volume radiates charm and humor while offering precious tidbits of wisdom. A delicious read.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.89(d)

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Read an Excerpt

                                                             SETTING OUT
WE LIVED OUR FIRST YEAR TOGETHER on Beacon Street, in Boston. The apartment was impossibly grand, high and white and classically pillared, previously the ground-floor ballroom and formal dining room of a great private house. Its floor-to-ceiling bay windows faced the Public Garden, and that was our garden in a way, as was the magnificent Magnolia Xsoulangeana that filled our tiny front yard. Sunlight flooded those windows, and in them we grew a collection of tender plants, some of
which were permanent, and some of which were added as the seasons progressed. There was a ficus tree, a wide-spreading Kentia palm, and a staghorn fern mounted on a wooden slab. To them we added cattleya orchids, pots of forced crocus and paperwhite narcissus, sweet-smelling hyacinths and bushy
azaleas, all bought from Mrs. Fishelson’s very costly flower shop on Charles Street just around the corner. We were prepared to make almost any sacrifice for beauty, though often enough we had only enough money left at the end of the month for pancakes. Still, there was always enough for flowers
from Mrs. Fishelson.

We lived at 89 Beacon Street for three months short of a year. The plant collections grew larger, and at one point included a ten-foot-tall weeping willow tree forced in the high windows of the bedroom. But in the end, it was not plants that sent us to the country. It was chickens.
We can no longer remember how we came to visit a chicken show, but it must have been the venerable Boston Poultry Show, now in its 158th year. In any case, we came home with a trio of Mille Fleur bantams, a sturdy little red rooster all spangled over with white and black dots, and two meek little hens. The hens were of an age to lay, and so, shortly thereafter, on Beacon Street, we began to produce our own eggs, generally two every other day.

Even then it was probably quite illegal to keep poultry in a Boston apartment. At first we wondered how our landlord would react, and so we quickly fashioned a pen for our chickens in keeping—we felt—with the grand circumstances to which they had been elevated. It was a large cage, roughly six feet long and four feet wide, made of dark-stained wood and expanded brass wire, with a deep tray in the bottom for sweet-smelling cedar shavings. Tucked behind the Kentia palm at the sunny end of the great ballroom, it also had Chinese export-ware feed and water bowls, and was of course kept immaculately
clean. Our landlord seemed, if anything, amused. We gave him some fresh-laid eggs.

But as all chicken fanciers know, chickens are addictive, and one can never stop at three. So many of our Saturday mornings were spent driving to the breeders of fancy chickens around Boston, our favorite of whom was Marjorie George, just over the Massachusetts line in Nashua, New Hampshire. Around Easter, she sold us a tiny cochin hen we named Emma. She was hardly the size of a cantaloupe, though her body was a cloud of soft, almost furry snow-white feathers. (We kept them that way, by weekly shampoos and fluffing out with the hair dryer.) She was the only chicken who had full run of the apartment, though she mostly favored the kitchen, where she had a nest box tucked privately in one corner. Soon she became broody, a skill for which cochins are famous, being generally considered the best of chicken mothers. Or foster mothers. For as Emma had no mate, her eggs were sterile. So we bought a dozen assorted fertile ones from Mrs. George, and twenty-one days later every one hatched.

Shortly thereafter, we had a morning visit from the chairman of the English department at Tufts, who lived in a beautiful house around the corner on Chestnut Street. Just at the moment he was lifting his cup of tea, Emma decided to show her brood the world. Perhaps seventy feet of dark, waxed oak parquet floor lay between the kitchen door and the couch where he sat. Emma proceeded that length, leading a stately procession of tiny, chirping chicks. She observed our guest skeptically, found nothing special in him, turned, and proceeded with her train the long way back. Good breeding kept him, we presume, from saying a single word about the extraordinary sight that had passed before him. But we wondered
what Emma’s perspective had been. Perhaps good breeding of her own caused her so politely to withdraw.

Figuring by May that we had perhaps reached the tipping point in our acquisition of chickens, we moved to a wonderful old rented farmhouse outside Boston in Pepperell, Massachusetts. Built in 1759, it preserved many of its original features, including a huge brick oven. Better, it came with a small barn that was more than ample for the thirty-five birds we brought with us, and then for the two hundred or so we soon acquired. We even kept a pig, named Morose, which was given to us a week before we left Beacon Street and which we had to keep in the bathtub there. Land came with this wonderful house as
well, with pastures and woods and a stream and lots of space to make a garden. So we made the transition from being indoor to outdoor gardeners, starting first with an oval space fifty feet by thirty feet that lay in the center of the circular gravel drive.

Naïve, we were. On a trip to Lexington Gardens, where we had already begun to buy indoor plants, we filled the car with flats of annuals, a bit of this, a bit of that, in every imaginable color. We stripped the grass from the oval, tilled the soil, and filled it with our new plants. It was certainly the most colorful
garden in town. Though thirty-six years have passed, we still remember what we grew. Salpiglosis was a particular thrill, with its felted petals, fantastically veined in contrasting colors over grounds of yellow and blue, chestnut brown and a purple almost black. There was also Phlox drummondii, which we still consider indispensable for the edges of beds, blooming softly all summer long in shades of cream and coral, mauve and pink and white. There were certainly snapdragons, in yellow and pink, mauve gomphrena, and red zinnias. We thought we were very sophisticated in knowing to plant drifts of one plant in one color. Now we feel the greater sophistication might have been to plant wildly, all mixed up like a flowering meadow, but that style, now so fashionable, lay far in our future.

We next turned our labors to a place to sit and enjoy the summer light. Flat fieldstone was abundant, and so we laid a stone terrace about ten feet by fifteen feet along the back of the house, and then made a screen around it of saplings cut from the woods. Into those we wove whips of privet hedge bought
cheap in bundles from Lexington Gardens, and we planted bitter melon (Momordica balsamina) to scramble over the screen. Its bumpy, three-inch-long yellow fruits that split to reveal vivid scarlet seed and its dark lobed leaves all provided lovely contrast to the small fresh green of the privet. We still
think the effect was surprisingly sophisticated, for the first garden we ever made together.

Success emboldened us. We bought a pair of handsome yews to flank either side of the front steps, and a dogwood to mark the corner of the ell. We dug laurels from the woods and planted them under the shaded living room windows. We also laid a fieldstone path from the driveway to the back door, on
either side of which we made an herb gard

Meet the Author

Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd are the co-authors of The Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden and Living Seasonally: The Kitchen and the Table at North Hill. They are co-founders of the garden design firm North Hill, and live in Vermont.

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Our Life in Gardens 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ExiledNewYorker More than 1 year ago
Eck and Winterrowd provide a memorable voice for gardeners and garden fans. Winterrowd's recent death makes the passages about gardens surviving their gardeners particularly touching. This series of short essays on a vast array of topics makes for an easy and enjoyable read. Eck and Winterrowd join Henry Mitchell and Allen Lacy in my little pantheon of modern writers for those interested in or active in gardening as an avocation.