June 29, 2020

Bill Noble's Spirit of Place Paints a Grand yet Personal Portrait

Spirit of Place is the ideal book for any plant lover or even, the serious plantsperson. 

While 2020 is turning out to be, at the very least, a rather stressful year for nearly everybody on our planet, at least it does seem to be offering us some very good escape mechanisms - mainly, gardening books. The most recent one to end up on my nightstand is "Spirit of Place' by Bill Noble (Timber Press, 2020). While Timber Press wrote and asked me if I would review this book, I should say that it is a book that I would buy anyway for it checks off most of the boxes I look for in finding a book to get lost is. 

  1. It's a bio-book, or a diary book about a New England garden. What I mean is, this book is about real people and their garden triumphs and failures. Love that.
  2. It's readable - loaded with relatable challenges and solutions, many of which are inspirational (so expect dog-earing and pencil notes - I always do that).
  3. It's beautifully designed and illustrated with stunning photos. As a graphic and visual designer myself, some books are that are poorly designed can be distracting. Also, the cover and paper stock are of high quality. Sort-of rare today, in a world of cost-savings and shortcuts. I appreciate that too.
  4. The author is someone I want to know. (Frankly, I should as he is practically a neighbor and we probably know many of the same people and shop at the same nurseries). I have no idea how he had slipped under my radar - unless, if he is like me, sometimes another career can keep one equally as busy?
  5. This is written by a true plantsperson. I can imagine some publishers saying, "Let's try to keep this book more mainstream and thus, relatable to our audience, many of which are beginner gardeners...". Not here. Bill fits into the same category as a Dan Hinkley or Ken Druse - rare plants, hard-to-find Himalayan plants, alpines, primula- it's all here, and they should be. After-all, do cookbooks or other special interest books shy away from rare or hard-to-find spices or products? Today, rarely do they. Serious plantspeople often journey through all of these passions. Yet, even the novice gardener will enjoy (and learn) from this book.

Spirit of Place should delight most any gardener or those who dream of being. It paints a portrait of a garden that was essentially created to become or grow into a destination, or better yet, a home. After all, isn't that what a garden should be? Gardens are personal portraits of life. They are added to, or subtracted from often for decades (at least the good and interesting ones are). They are lived in, tweaked, edited, and improved over a lifetime, thus growing more impressive every year. Gardens are about visioning, reality, dreams, reality, collecting, curating, displaying, and often failures that only begged to be challenged once again until one masters it. 

Bill has let plants lead many of his designs. From borders with Himalaya plants to grand landscape expressions that complement a massive view. He seems to have created a very special and personal place in the mountains of Vermont, and I am pretty sure that he is not done just yet.

Bill Noble's garden is in Vermont - my favorite state, so there is much in here that makes me envious and maybe even hope that someday I will move there (although it is getting late!). His approach to an old farmhouse on a hill is not only a great story (he and his partner trying to fit odd yet relatable criteria into what house would be perfect - in this case, a grand piano needed to fit.) But what appeals to me most is the overall narrative for it's one so many of us plant-people have journeyed on and often still are on. 

Spirit of Place is just that. Loving where you live, and making it better with plants, friends, and shared life. It follows in the literary footsteps of some of my favorite and influential gardening books - A year at North Hill by Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck, or any of the Thalassa Cruso books. If you often read those, then this book is for you.

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