A Life in the Garden: Wayne Winterrowd Remembered

By October 8, 2010September 26th, 20116 Comments
by Julie Moir Messervy

We’ve lost a great designer and garden communicator, but are grateful for the writings and legacy he leaves behind. Here are a few of my memories of Wayne Winterrowd:

Wayne Winterrowd with his longtime partner, gardening companion, and co-author Joe Eck.
Photo: CJ Gunther for USA Today.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Leonard Perry came to our studio to film for his “Across the Fence” television program on Vermont’s WCAX. Early that morning, in preparation for his arrival, I watched several of his shows to get a sense of his interview style. My favorite was one he filmed this past July with Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck at their lovely garden, North Hill. In this 15-minute interview and video tour, Leonard asks Wayne and Joe about their gardens, some of their favorite plants, and the life they created together in Vermont. It had been a few years since I had seen them both, so I felt happy to have a glimpse of them once more.

When Leonard and his crew arrived later that morning, I told him how much I loved his segment on North Hill. “Yes,” he said, “It was quite a shock to hear that Wayne died last week.” I hadn’t heard. Sure enough, in the New York Times that morning was Anne Raver’s tribute to Wayne.

Wayne and some of his books. Photo: Fotios Bouzikos for the New York Times; Book Images: Macmillan.

Like so many others in our field, I have wonderful memories of Wayne. Lecturing with him for Horticulture Magazine, I witnessed his Southern charm and elegant turns-of-phrase, and learned about plants from a master. I was flattered to be asked to write about my favorite roses for the book he edited on the subject and delighted to present at the North Hill Symposium on Women and Gardening some years later. He and Joe toured my first Garden Design Retreat participants around North Hill, enchanting us all with their deep knowledge of plants and design.

L: One of North Hill’s many gardens; R: A blue Meconopsis Poppy, one of the many plants Wayne and Joe coaxed through the Vermont winter. Photos: Growing With Plants.

But my favorite exchanges with Wayne came via email after he learned that I was planning to relocate to Southern Vermont. He wrote with enthusiasm about the delights of living in the country and encouraged me to look for land and to work it. His words were heeded.

Writing books is often an arduous and lonely pursuit. But among the benefits an author might reap is immortality. Through his writings, Wayne’s exquisite vision lives on.

Wayne, Harry, and Joe at North Hill in 2009. Photos: Caleb Kenna for the Burlington Free Press.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Excellent post and tribute. Writers do live on in the hearts and minds of those that they touch with their words, wisdom and ability to bring a subject to life. Julie, your writing and design inspires us all.

  • Catherine Lyons says:

    I was shocked to hear the news of Wayne’s death. I just heard him for the first time at a meeting of the CT Horticultural Society this Spring. They both did a lovely reading from Our Life in Gardens. Yet there was a somberness about the talk, and at the end Wayne read the passage that states when they die, he wants North Hill to die with them. I was horrified that he would feel that way. That is his legacy as much as his writing – without the garden, we wouldn’t have the writing.

  • Wilhelmina Peters says:

    Thank you for posting this Julie. I did not know of Wayne’s death. I was fortunate to have seen North Hill just after moving to Vermont myself, must have been 2006 or 07. It was beautiful and I remember admiring it intensely. It will be sad to have it return to the earth, but gardening is a very transient creative medium. A garden rarely successfully outlives it’s creators and if it does, it is at great expense. Perhaps it is best it cease to exist once those who have created it have passed on to more fertile fields. Nevertheless, I will always remember North Hill and will cherish the books I have by these wonderful plantsmen.

  • It’s interesting to hear about Wayne’s words at the Ct. Hort Society, Catherine. But of course North Hill is as much Joe’s garden as it was Wayne’s, so I can’t imagine that Joe won’t continue to nurture it for many years to come. I hope he will.

  • Cheryl Dorschner says:

    Yes, it was a sad privilege to break the story of Wayne Winterrowd’s passing in his home-state newspaper, the “Burlington Free Press” Thanks for linking to it in your photo caption.
    Just a note: renowned Vermont photographer Caleb Kenna kindly offered his photos to all journalists writing about Wayne. Kenna originally published that photo in the “Washington Post,” not the Burlington Free Press.

    Your readers may also be interested in the tribute to Wayne Winterrowd by another writing colleague, Adrian Higgins for “The Washington Post.”

    ~Cheryl Dorschner

  • Pamela Stagg says:

    Thank you for your words about Wayne, Julie. Like you, I was shocked to hear of Wayne’s death. For over a decade, one of the highlights of each year has been driving down from Canada to the North Hill Garden Symposium every June.
    How wonderful it has been to watch North Hill get better and better with each year. And collaborating with Wayne on the rose book was a very special privilege.

    Now that he is gone, it seems that a light has gone out in the gardening world.