I wanted to like this book, I really did. I have long admired the work and writings of the authors, Vermont gardeners Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. I long to see their famous (bordering on legendary) garden at North Hill. Eck and Winterrowd are amazing gardeners and designers, providing great inspiration for those of us who garden in a cold climate.
This book is not so much a gardening book as a book about gardening. There are no photographs or diagrams. Instead, it is a series of short essays arranged alphabetically. I found it an enjoyable read, chocked full of useful information and wonderful descriptions.
But like a hangnail that keeps one up at night, not really painful but a constant irritant, the issue of invasive plants spoiled this book for me. The Nature Conservancy has listed Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) as an invading plant species in Vermont for its invasions of Vermont's forests and fields. Dame's Rocket (Hesperis) is on the Vermont invasive plant watch list. Yet in "Our Life in Gardens" there is an essay extolling the virtues of Berberis thunbergii, and Dame's Rocket is touted in the section on biennials. Compounding the problem is that North Hill is surrounded by woodland and a National Forest.
I thought my concerns would be allayed by the chapter entitled "Rampant Plants." Sadly, they were not. The authors avoided the concept of invasiveness ("invasive" plants are those which disrupt habitats and food sources for native plants and animals) (see The New England Wildflower Society). Instead, they admit to the inoffensive spread of a few Primula Japonicas and a couple of other plants not on the invasive species or watch lists. (I do like their mention of a Ring of Hell for those who knowingly plant invasives. I imagine that ring would be a garden filled with nothing but Marigolds, Buckthorn, and Kudzu.) I'm sure this won't bother many readers, but for hypersensitive, fanatical obsessives such as myself, it grates.
Aside from this shortcoming, this is a book worth reading. The most useful part of the book is the essay about hardiness, with specific advice for creating microclimates and encouragement to treat zone information as merely advisory. I'm particularly enamored of the essay about trowels. Who knew trowels could be so interesting?