Shortly after I moved to Vermont, a gardening friend urged me to accompany her to a garden only open the last day of June, July and August. In those days, North Hill was open as a fundraiser for the Brattleboro AIDS project.
Nearly twenty years later, I visited North Hill again on Saturday, June 7th. I have never known a gardener, who does not apologize for the weeds in their garden. Joe Eck was no exception. His first words: “Please forgive me.”
Joe and his partner, Wayne Winterrowd, now deceased, created North Hill over a period of thirty years. The garden is 7 acres, contains over 8,000 species and cultivars, 100,000 daffodils, 41 varieties of magnolia and due to its micro-climate is home to many plants impossible to see in Vermont.
Memory is a very fragile thing. On the ride over to see the garden, I described my impressions of North Hill to friends. North Hill is a garden impossible to forget. I envied its site, diversity and plant palette. Most of all, I remember a very hot day in July, Joe with a pitcher of ice water, keeping, the very rare, Meconopsis ‘Lingholm (Himalayan Blue poppy) cool. This attention to detail made Joe and Wayne, not only a perfect pair, but gardeners extraordinaire.
Joe urged the group,“If you see a stone path take it. The garden is made up of little rooms. You will find things.” It was hard to find things. I was overwhelmed by what had happened to the garden. I understood exactly how it could happen. Plants can cast a spell over you. I always want to make another garden, so I can use another kind of plant(s). No matter how foolhardy it may seem, it’s hard to resist the instinct. I don’t know how North Hill descended into disarray. I only know things are out of control. At the best of times, the garden took more than two gardeners to maintain. Joe Eck told my husband, “I am too old to garden.”
That same thought has crossed my mind. Is gardening a young
mans/womans game? Pairing back, getting down to essentials is the story of most older folks: nursing homes, assisted living quarters, gated communities; all offer simpler ways to live. A garden of 7 acres can quickly tumble into meadow; meadow slide into woodland. A return to nature could be the fate of North Hill. And maybe that is ok.