Our Life in Gardens

Our Life in Gardens ****

by Joe Eck & Wayne Winterrowd

An Edible Book Review inspired by Jain at Food for Thought, a delicious blog for readers with an appetite for the written word.

 “Plants, like words in poetry, observe Eck and Winterrowd, 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.”

Cofounders of the garden design firm North Hill, the authors, 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.”

 Each chapter begins with a pen & ink drawing by Bobbi Angell, botanical illustrator and artist. Her work continues to win awards, including the prestigious Jill Smythies Award from The Linnean Society of London, The American Society of Botanical Artists’ Award for Excellence in the Service of Science, and Center for Plant Conservation’s Star Award.

My life in gardens is limited to the table~ I wish I had one to rival North Hill or my Portmeirion Botanic Garden~


Instead, I’m gardening vicariously with dishes . . . enjoying the buzzing of the bees and fluttering of butterflies among the flowers.

I can dream about flowers as I mentally traipse through the authors’ Vermont garden and enjoy their bits of wisdom as they share their passion. . .

 . . .and gather bits of knowledge, nostalgia & new plants to cultivate while enjoying essays that range alphabetically from ~

Agapanthus: “we fear you must resort to shoving and hauling, smashing and splintering, to a cold bedroom full of nasty, yellowing foliage, always anticipating the pure bliss that will come,”


 Xanthorrhoea Quadrangulata: “it is painful to say that plants are very scarce and that ours is not likely to produce any progeny we can share.”

“From a chance encounter, gardeners, like lovers, often form lifelong relationships of great intensity. You see a plant, your eyes widen, your pulse accelerates, and huskily you ask even complete strangers its name, importunately tugging at coat sleeves.”

 Much like what happens to me when I spy a new botanical image or design of Portmeirion at Home Goods or wherever I stumble on it :-)

Since its creation in 1972, over 70 botanical images have been added to this collection. To see this exuberant botanic garden with all the blooming motifs, look here.

 “Buried in every gardener’s memory are plants he has seen or read about and vows to grow, or wishes he could grow, if only he had the right conditions.”

“Dame’s Rocket can make its gentle way at the edges of woods or in partly shaded ditches, competing with weeds and making them glorious in mid-June, with three-foot-tall branched candelabra of little four-petaled flowers in beautiful shades of purple, pink, and white, blended together like the colors of an old, much-bleached housedress. The smell is that of fresh laundry, a rich, spicy, powders sweetness elusive to Chanel or any other parfumier.”

“ ‘Fife Yellow,’ ‘Cowichan Blue’, ‘Barnhaven Gold’, ‘Duckyls Red’, ‘Enchantress’, ‘Guinevere’, ‘Granny Graham’, ‘Broadwell Milkmaid’, ‘Sailor Boy’, ‘Prince Charming’, ‘Satchmo’, ‘Winter Dreams’, ‘Hurstwood Midnight’. . .

. . . even without a picture in a catalog, it is hard to resist ordering plants with such names, for as with roses, their beauty begins there. Add a picture, and the gardener is sunk, the plant budget spent, and the vegetables unordered.”

Annuals:  “Though they are often very beautiful themselves, their charm resides to a large degree precisely in their naïveté, their simple sense of ease and well-being, just in themselves, just in what they are. It is true that their colors are often bold and unsubtle, usually in the part of the color wheel called ‘hot,’ which includes the hardest yellows, crimsons, and reds—but they are beloved by children and to any adult they offer the same kind of lift to the heart that occurs when walking through FAO Schwarz at Christmastime.”

Hybrids: “Crossing species madly ending up with a diverse swarm rather like a barnyard of mixed bantam chickens.”

Seed: “There is something deeply touching about any flower that blooms so late, and we wonder how it has time to make seed. It seems forgetful of that necessity, and even therefore, faintly tragic, or at least melancholic.”

“Within the group of plants classed as biennial are some of the most treasured in gardens, not for their rarity, certainly, but for their homely, simple charm. Usually, they are considered ‘cottage flowers,’ and their ranks include hollyhocks, forget-me-nots, dame’s rocket, Sweet William, Saint Barbara’s weed, and foxgloves. Like all cottage flowers, they seem to carry resonances far beyond their individual beauty, suggesting fine June country mornings and casement windows flung open to the bright sun and the sound of bees at work. Somewhere near them there will always be an old, well-waxed table spread with good, fresh things, and the chance to linger in the garden, to work perhaps or just to sit and stare.”

“Early each spring, we wonder whether we would love snowdrops if they bloomed in June, rather than at the end of a long, cold winter. Certainly they are beautiful enough to love at any time of the year:  silken pearls in bud and winged when open to the warmth of an early spring day. They dangle on delicate, threadlike pedicels, dancing in the slightest breeze.”

“What makes lilacs treasured is not the years they can accumulate, however, but the beauty of their flowers, which come just as the last memory of winter and its ice and snow and barrenness are passing away in the May sun. They flower exuberantly then, hundreds of cobs of bloom appearing over gaunt, gray trunks. That conjunction is itself an emblem of the renewal of the year, but we wonder whether without the fragrance peculiar to lilacs they would matter so much.”

 I played with violas, sugaring them for Food for Thought to embellish cupcakes~

 Ideas and directions for crystallizing edible flowers, courtesy of Martha Stewart here

Dishes: Portmeirion Botanic Garden

 Napoleon Bee Flatware: Horchow

Napkins: Pier 1

Napkin Rings: Home Goods

Rattan Chargers: World Market

“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.” ~Phillip Gambone

“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.”

Sadly, Wayne Winterrowd passed away last September~ his work with Joe lives on, not only in their books, but in their beautiful garden, North Hill.

Thanks for your visit & to my hostesses, I’m joining:

  41 comments for “Our Life in Gardens

  1. March 21, 2011 at 8:13 am

    You put so much care into your blog~

    Lovely..every line:)

  2. March 21, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Another breathtakingly beautiful table, Mary!
    I love the dishes and the way you tied them in with the book.

  3. Pondside
    March 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

    What a lovely post to read first-thing on a cold and rainy morning. The photos you’ve chosen are beautiful – the dishes have long been favorites of mine, along with Vilroy and Boch Botanica.

  4. March 21, 2011 at 11:27 am

    what a treat… you know its winter here with heavy winds and rain, and cold, so not a california spring… and then i see you, basking it all its glory. it was painful reading this… honest, my cheeks hurt smiling so long to linger~

    heavy duty sigh of contentment here… oh my, its all so wonderful to take in, gardens, books and cupcakes… oh to live your life :)

  5. March 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Mary, the table is beautiful, and the flowers are perfect! With dreary ol’ winter preparing to make its leave, I am so glad to see such glorious colors of nature!!! Those colors are wonderfully brought out in your selection of dishes (I LOVE Portmeirion!) as well as all the fabulous blooms. With termperatures in the upper 70s, we mercifully saw the first heads of daffodils emerge here over the weekend. (We’ll be back at more seasonable temps by mid-week, middle 50s.) No crocus yet, but I am a patient person. Have a terrific day and a really great week!

  6. March 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Your tablescapes are always a work of art, Mary….they gladden and lift my spirits. I’ve always liked the Portmerion patterns.
    The photo of the plate detail taken through the stemware is brilliant!

  7. March 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Mary, another beautiful table. Love the way you mixed the apples with the blooms. The little violas with their sugary coating make a happy topping. Now I’m craving a cupcake. One look at these dishes, and I can see why you like to add more each time you find them. It’d be like picking flowers for a bouquet.
    Awesome photos as always. ~ Sarah

  8. March 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    What an exquisite post in every way! Vanna

  9. March 21, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    What a wonderful way to start Spring. Your botanic garden dishes are just beautiful and those sugared violet cupcakes divine! I love the peonie plate.A picture does speak a thousand words…The botanical illustrations of Bobbi Angell are just georgeous, a very clever artist! x

  10. March 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Stunning. How wonderful to have such a lovely place outside. Your tablescape is fabulous. Love, love, love your dishes and the cupcakes are to die for. HUgs, Marty

  11. March 21, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Stunning images ,a amazing tablescape !!! I love these Portmeirion Botanic Garden Dishes ! Wonderful colors that bring joy ! Thank you for this piece of Art !

  12. March 21, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Mary!! This is just beautiful! Awesome tablescapes!!! I am longing for my lakehouse….wish it would warm up!!! Going to be passing through North Carolina soon …. will wave as we go by!! Your blog cheers me up so much and I thank you for that!!

  13. March 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Love those dishes! They are wonderful and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them! I also like your cupcakes that you made…they are so sweet with the little sugared flowers on them! Wow…you outdid yourself. How did they taste? hahahaha….I just love cupcakes and I’m curious…big smile. I know they must have been delicious. Great post. And I really enjoy your blog.

  14. March 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    All of your colors just pop! Everything is beautiful!!

    Susan and Bentley

  15. March 22, 2011 at 5:16 am

    Your table is just elegant. The dishes are gorgeous and the arrangement with the apples and daffodils is beautiful. The cupcakes look pretty special too. I enjoyed your post today. Lovely.


  16. March 22, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Hi Mary…

    My friend, your garden table is just scrumptious! What a lovely set of dishes…I just love all the beautiful botanicals on them and the colors are sooo vibrant! They certainly do set a lovely spring table! Eveything is just perfect! Your sugared violets are so pretty and just look beautiful atop your cupcakes! Thank you so much for sharing this fabulous garden table with us today and also a commentary on “Our Life in Gardens”. It looks like a very interesting read and I loved the pen and pencil drawings…I just love things like that! Sweet post, my friend!!!

    Warmest spring wishes,
    Chari @Happy To Design

  17. March 22, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    How utterly BEAUTIFUL, Mary! You are so lucky to have such beautiful items & so many of them. I only have a few pieces & I know how expensive they can be. I must go see what flower names I have…can’t even remember now.

    Your cupcakes with their little sugared toppers are a delight for the eyes! Very, very pretty!

  18. March 23, 2011 at 4:32 am

    You have exactly the same Portmerion dinner service as me. I love all the flowers.

  19. La
    March 23, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and springy post. Your table is gorgeous. I’ve never used edible flowers, but would love to give it a try.

  20. March 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    I would love one of those special cupcakes!

  21. March 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    This was absolutely beautiful! I l ove the whole table. The botanical plates are just perfect to go with the book, and I love the way you did the flowers with the apples tucked in.

    And I really want to crystallize edible flowers now.

  22. March 23, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Hi, I have Portmeirion dishes too, and I love how you’ve displayed yours.
    Very Springy!

  23. March 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I was charmed by the words and the pictures. A very lovely table full of lovely thoughts. Love the drama of the centerpiece bowl! Looks like a great book.

  24. March 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    A feast for the eye and the literary mind. The sugared violas are tiny works of art. Thank you for sharing your beautiful design. Cherry Kay

  25. March 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    I love the post! I love all those gorgeous botanical flowers. Those violets that are sugared are super sweet! I am glad I came over. anne

  26. Happier Than A Pig in Mud
    March 24, 2011 at 3:52 am

    What a great table! Lovin’ your beautiful centerpieces and the cupcakes are really fun-enjoy:@)

  27. Debbie
    March 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Oh, Spring! Is it here at last? I adore your tablescape. The photo of the reflection in the silver is incredible. You have created the most beautiful fruit bowl that I have ever seen. I never thought of mixing fruit and flowers. LOVELY!

  28. March 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Mary, it always a treat to visit…lovely, lovely spring table…the Portmeiron looks wonderful on that blue background.

  29. jo
    March 24, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    all i can say is that this is my all time favourite post of yours … i just loved everything about it … it’s all so interesting and so beautiful … cheers!

  30. March 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Spring! I need spring!


  31. March 25, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Your tableware is just glorious, and delightful! How beautiful the way you’ve set up!

  32. March 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I love your Portmerion and the way you tied it into the book. Very clever. And you’ve got some really lovely photos. I particularly like the goblet with the reflection of the dish.


  33. March 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Oh I adore your garden tablescape~ swoon!

    I am currently hosting an auction of vintage and antique linen treasures on my blog. Stop by and take a peek.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

  34. March 26, 2011 at 10:50 am

    I know this range of china and you have made a beautiful tablescape using it.

  35. March 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Wow! What a fabulous link, as always. You have such a well thought out blog. Your posts just flow together almost magically.

    I was also especially enchanted with that x-traordinary clock hanging on your porch wall. Absolutely lovely.

    Thanks for an x-cellent link to Alphabe-Thursday’s letter X.

    This post definitely marked a wonderful spot this week.


  36. March 31, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Mary, I’m back to take this all in once again. I feel as if I’m in a beautiful garden when viewing this table. Sheer delight! Makes me feel so happy!!! ~ Sarah

  37. March 31, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous dishes…and the flowers are perfect with them….how beautifully spring!!

  38. April 1, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Portmeiron dishes have long been a favourite and we were lucky enough to actually visit the gardens in Wales a couple of years ago. What a quirky place that is.
    A delightful post to get April off to a very good start.
    Bon weekend.

  39. May 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    How incredibly lovely!!

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