The editor of Sanctuary, the journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, offers an unusual twist on the genre of nature writing by using Italian garden design as a framework for exploring the meaning of wildness. This is not as much of a stretch as you might imagine. Over the centuries, Italian gardens have always incorporated wild spaces as part of the overall design. It is the balance of order and disorder, of control and freedom that gives these gardens their special qualities.
I took a particular interest in this book, having procured my own small urban garden. Like the author, I, too, had sought nature in the properly designated places, such as the Catskills, so I was interested in knowing if he thought the possibility for wildness could exist in some landscape of human creation. In John Hanson Mitchell's case, his home in the woods ensured that wild nature was always a presence. I enjoyed his tales of creating an Italian garden in the middle of the forest, complete with a formal hedge maze, but what struck me was his sensitivity to the unexpected moments of wildness to be found in domesticated spaces. Pan, the archaic embodiment of wildness, figures prominently in the book. After finishing it -- which took longer than usual because I couldn't bring myself to rush through it -- I came away with the hope that Pan might visit me one day in my little sanctuary.
The Wildest Place on Earth is a lovely meditation on the relationship between the creations of humankind and those of nature. (Laura Wood, Science & Nature Editor)