Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden, Bill Noble, 2020
I loved this book! I may be biased because we have come to know our Vermont neighbor, Bill Noble, over the last several years after hearing him lecture in Shelburne, Vt and then visiting his garden in Norwich several times. He was kind enough (after some begging!) to share his right hand associate with us, and she has worked side by side with me during the last few years in developing our own special place. Bill has even visited Brownsville and made several inspired suggestions. But back to the book. It’s terrific. Superb photos (all taken by Bill) which are unusual in that they are accompanied by the names of all the plants in the photo, detailed advice about ‘how to’, and lyrical prose about the philosophy that has motivated Bill’s garden development. Garden books tend to be either ‘how to’ books with excruciating details about compost, tilling, watering, etc. or broad photo studies of specific gardens. There are excellent examples of each genre based right here in VT- A Year at North Hill and Tasha Tudor’s Garden come to mind. This book combines the very best of both approaches. I stopped writing down the names of specific plants I wanted to try when I had filled two pages with microscopic printing, so there’s a plethora of great ideas for new plants for every kind of environment. Since Noble is a collector with widespread contacts, my guess is that trying to find most of these plants in your local nursery will be futile, but the search is half the fun. The real strength of the book, however, is Bill’s prose about why and how he gardens, ‘composing a landscape painting’ in order to ‘create a beautiful, memorable setting and then populate it with interesting and appropriate plants….a garden to live in, to cultivate, and to take pleasure in …”. Perhaps most impressive is how he has truly captured the extensive and multi-fold gardens that comprise his property. Leaf through this book to enjoy the photos and learn plant names; read it to understand the compulsion and delight that a real gardener feels for his creation. Whatever motivates you, and whether you know the difference between an Aralia and an Aruncus, read this book and enjoy and learn. Who knows, you may even decide to plant a garden.