The history of gardens designed and tended by their owners are the autobiographies of their owners. North Hill, the home of Joe Eck and the late Wayne Winterowd, is chronicled in a number of books written by both men. The latest book, finished by Joe, after Wayne’s death is “not a book about gardening or about eating. It’s a book about love.”
Joe Eck read 4 chapters from To Eat at the Hort Society last night. He has a hushed voice. I was in the second row and could hear perfectly. I wasn’t lulled to sleep. I was gently rocked into a stupor. I felt a little envious of this love at first sight couple and the lives of gardening and eating. Joe and Wayne cultivated. This book is a homage to their long life together. It was finished by Joe after Wayne passed. And it is a tribute to Joe that he managed to keep the tone and the writing of their joint voice. After living together for 42 years, they perfected the art of writing a book together.
As Joe said, this book does not have the in-depth gardening wisdom and knowledge of many of their other books. It is about the origin of some of their ideas about living, their relationships with friends and especially their decision to live their lives without the trappings of grandeur or money. It’s a life many of us aspire to.
I have been to North Hill many times over 20 years. It’s near my house in Vermont. Joe and Wayne’s garden is a garden I admire. It’s developed over years. It has a very unique micro-climate for Vermont ( they can grow things no one else in Vermont can) and it’s been changing and evolving for over 30 years.
In 1988, North Hill was open (as it used to be in those days) as a benefit for the Brattleboro Hospice once a year. It was a very hot day in July. Guests parked their cars in the nearest town and a shuttle bus was provided to the garden. Vermonters are not heat lovers and everyone looked and felt exhausted by the humid air. Part of the garden is on a hilly site. Walking up the hill toward the house, I noticed a very unusual site. Someone was pouring a pitcher of ice water on Himayalan Blue Poppies (Meconopsis grandis). It was Joe.
Joe and Wayne’s book To Eat is about remembering and savoring. The memory of Joe pouring ice water on his blue poppies is one I will never forget. 15 years ago, this act of dedication and folly was emblematic of what how a “real” gardener took care of his/her plants. I’ve since grown up. I know Joe has.
A Talk with Joe Eck
Horticultural Society of New York
June 17, 2013