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Garden book review: ‘Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden’

“Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden” by Bill Noble ($35, Timber Press): “Journey” is the first word that comes to my mind as I read Noble’s enchanting, 288-page book. The reader is taken through his experience of searching for, selecting and creating a stunning New England garden on Bragg Hill in Norwich, Vermont.

The journey begins with the discovery of an amazing piece of property. Noble, the former director of preservation for the Garden Conservancy, shares events that led him to arrive at a time in his life when he was ready to welcome such a place and project.

He writes of learning along the way to become a garden designer. His story is filled with eye-opening adventures, internationally and closer to home, which enabled him to observe, study and learn his craft – his art and passion.

The journey continues with the process of assessing the conditions of the property – weather and climate, soil and geology, and air and water circulation. For the first couple of years, Noble describes the course of cleaning up the land, removing invasive plants and identifying challenges.

Development of a master plan was the next important step in the process, complete with guiding principles that inform the many decisions to be made.

One of the first areas of focus was the old-fashioned flower garden, a 65-foot long and 45-foot wide space, bisected by two paths. Key to this area’s planning was creating a sense of “unity, harmony, and repetition.”

Noble then discusses the seasons and the unique tasks to be accomplished as well as the absolute wonder in each. Although the growing season is short, there is always something of interest and beauty throughout the year.

Additional areas — a barn garden, rock garden and companion gardens — are all detailed in Noble’s story.

Meadows, fields and forest, an integral part of Noble’s complete garden, enhance the feel of the entire place.

“The Spirit of Place” is a lot of history, an abundance of planning and devotion, and a collection of amazing photographs. Bragg Hill is truly a place where the spirit of nature is thriving.

— Sally Peterson

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