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Our Life in Gardens

While books on specific topics can have broader applications, they don't necessarily need to. Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd's new book on gardening, their third, doesn't claim to be anything more.

Book Digest No doubt in the publishing world there is a lingering hope that books specific in topic—bread-baking, quilting, knitting, bird-watching—have application to the broader project of the life well-lived—as in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Which is, of course, a most un-Zen-like precept. Things are what they are and repurposing them may seem like adroit ingenuity but much of contemporary life seems to follow along this muddled and shallow line. While not yet drawn by the allure of piddling around a plot of the good earth, I have appreciated the passion with which one can be caught up—having had the pleasure of being given a tour of Jamaica Kincaid’s garden. And certainly I enjoy the sight of flora, wild or domesticated, as much as the next primate.

Which is why and how I can recognize the appeal of well-regarded garden designers Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd’s (The Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden and Living Seasonally: The Kitchen and the Table at North Hill) third co-authored book, Our Life in Gardens (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), which they describe as such:
This book is a mixed bag, a gypsy trunk of this and that. Within it, we hope the reader will find sound information about the cultivation of plants and their value in the landscape, and some perceptions about garden design, which is our profession. There are also essays about the various parts of our garden, and there are essays about particular plants…There are also essays on the development of the garden over time and the question that weighs on us most at this time, its probable demise.

Still, for all its mixed nature, this book has a coherence, for as we have tried to explain, it’s really about us. Rather than apologizing for its implicit egotism, we would have to say that we may shamelessly write another. We do not seem to be done yet.
By the way, of Eck and Winterrowd’s legendary garden North Hill, Kincaid opines: “Seeing a garden can fill you up with one kind of feeling or another; very few can make you swell up with excitement and at the same time become small in a state of peace. North Hill is such a garden.”
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