four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-Our Life in GardensJoe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd are the visionaries behind North Hill, which the New York Times calls "one of the best private gardens in North America." Their previous books together include Living Seasonally: The Kitchen Garden and the Table at North Hill and A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden.

The Topic: Moving alphabetically through the dizzying varieties of plants on their 23-acre Vermont property, North Hill, Eck and Winterrowd explore the rewards of gardening in this fascinating collection of essays. From their first houseplants in their Boston apartment to the challenges of maintaining agapanthus through the brittle Vermont winters to a cross-country trip with a Rhododendron fosterianum, the pair’s commitment to their land and their 30-year partnership subtly reveal a deeper message of how we tend our own lives. "It actually has taught us to love every day of our life," they write. "One cannot ask more of love for a garden than that."
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 336 pages. $30. ISBN: 0374160317

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Eck and Winterrowd are funny, affectionate, wise and snobbish exactly when you want them to be. … It’s in the descriptions of the day-to-day labor of gardening that this book is so moving." Dominique Browning

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]here is one surprise: an essay about old gardens and the joy found in remaking them. … Wisely, they make only a passing reference to the parallels with human mortality, instead encouraging us in the necessary ‘art of elimination,’ cutting back and even cutting down to let in more light, and thus present us with new possibilities." Kim Ode

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"These gardeners admit their mistakes as surely as they revel in the beauty they’ve created and tend. They masterfully evoke the joys of digging in the dirt, the comfortable rhythms of the gardening year." Valerie Easton

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Eck and Winterrowd write about gardening the way M. F. K. Fisher wrote about food, which is to say about love and an appetite for life and things rendered more sweet by their brevity." Susan Salter Reynolds

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"The book is partitioned into short chapters, each headed by a line drawing of the genus under discussion therein, but those who aren’t horticulturists will be aided by reading the book in the vicinity of a computer in order to look up images of the various plants and the catalog of cultivars the writers discuss. … Gardeners on either coast can relate to the authors whacking back wisteria, pruning the roots of a potted bay tree, delighting in the variety of winter-blooming camellias, and eschewing long vacations so as not to miss being there when the Crocus sativus bloom." Lynette Evans

Critical Summary

The admiration and genial frustration from critics-cum-amateur gardeners is palpable in the positive reviews of Our Life in Gardens. They take heart from the knowledge that these master gardeners face the same hurdles as most casual horticulturists, but a hint of jealousy creeps through in comments like this from the San Francisco Chronicle: "Eck and Winterrowd don’t say how much outside help they have—a frustrating omission for gardeners who exhaust themselves trying to keep up much smaller plots." Nongardeners, furthermore, may need a reference book at hand. Neither a how-to book nor an autobiography, Our Life in Gardens captures the best of both while maintaining focus on the authors’ deep connection with their land.