Q&A with Jack Staub, Author of “Private Edens: Beautiful Country Gardens”

By Shelley Pierce | October 16, 2016
Image by Gibbs Smith
by Shelley Pierce
October 16, 2016

Jack Staub is widely considered to be one of the country’s leading experts on vegetables and vegetable gardening style. He has written for and been featured in many of this country’s top gardening and lifestyle publications (House & Garden, House Beautiful, Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Victoria, Country Living Gardener, Kitchen Gardener, and Food & Wine), and his articles and lectures have helped to re-popularize the ancient art of kitchen gardening, and introduce many new vegetable varieties to gardeners across America. His celebrated gardens at Hortulus Farm in Pennsylvania have also been featured in a Time-Warner series on organic gardening.

In his latest book, “Private Edens: Beautiful Country Gardens“, Jack Staub presents more than twenty beautiful and sumptuous private country gardens in Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts. From a romantic garden with cottagey plantings that pays homage to the best of English garden vernacular to a splendid Eden of Maryland countryside meets Himalayan serenity, these garden paradises stand alone on their own terms but offer us examples of what we can all achieve with a modicum of respect, partnership and imagination.  Read on for more information about this book and a enter for a chance to win one of two copies from Gibbs Smith Publishing!

1. Why did you choose these 22 gardens to be featured in your book?  Which of them was your favorite and why?

The story of the garden is as important to me as the garden. I am always interested in what made that owner choose that particular path and mode of expression. Their story as it relates to their garden is what makes it interesting to me. As a result, there’s a tremendously broad range of garden expression in the book, from grand to decidedly funky. In terms of a favorite garden I don’t really have one. There are some BEAUTIFUL gardens in the book. Really stunning. If I had to choose one as a really distinctive vision, however, I think it would have to be the Harmonious Convergence chapter. What a fantastic marriage of cultures!

2. How can readers use this book to help them enhance their property and develop their own private edens?

Part of every garden’s story in the book is the history of its particular garden making: where the gardeners started and with what, the obstacles overcome, the mistakes made, the solutions discovered. Each garden has it’s own unique list of issues, discoveries, and solutions. Every gardener should take away some nugget of interest in each of these very compelling individual stories.

3. As you talked to the owners of the gardens, did you discover that the gardens were indeed a reflection of their owners’ personalities?  If so, what was the most striking example of that?

There are actually two that come to mind. The first is the Sense Of Place chapter. This man is a legendary character: totally irreverent and a bit outrageous while being this huge philanthropist and preservationist. His property is a total reflection of his own unique persona. The other is the Pilgrim’s Progress chapter. This woman is a very eloquent screenwriter and her quirky and even dramatic path to the creation of her garden and the not quite haphazard way she realized it is still totally reflected in its funky country charm.

4. What inspired you to start this project and did you bring back any inspiration to apply to your own personal garden in Wrightstown, PA?  And, what makes your personal garden an eden to you?

My partner and I have been gardening on our farm for 35+ years. He’s a landscape architect so we have many gardening friends across a number of continents and I would say I knew at least 75% of the gardens and owners in the book personally. So it seemed like a natural idea to showcase them in a book. Our garden happens to be the An American Story chapter in the book so I would say that we did not so much gain inspiration from the gardens in the book as gain inspiration over many years from the countless gardens and gardeners we have visited. For instance, my mentor in terms of how to achieve a beautiful vegetable garden was Rosemary Verey, with whom I had a long friendship and correspondence. And Anna Pavord, author of The Tulip among many other books and an incredibly knowledgable gardener, is an old friend and constant source of gardening inspiration.

In terms of what makes our garden and Eden to me? It is the most beautifully calming place to be. It is set apart from the world, in its own little valley. It respects what was there before us and we have only attempted to enhance and never overwhelm what was there. It breathes with the life of all god’s creatures: horses and sheep, chickens and ducks and geese, swans and peacocks, three rescue dogs, and two barn cats, all living in harmony. It’s the way the world could and should be.

5. As you compiled information for this book did you notice any common threads in each of the gardens you visited?

Yes: one learns there is a right way and a wrong way to approach garden making. You have to understand and fix the problems first: amend the soil, fix the drainage and grades, build the hardscape, etc., otherwise, as Nanny used to say, there will be tears before bedtime. And, also, educate yourself to start. Don’t just plunge in willy-nilly. Visit other gardens. Visit local nurseries. Buy some design books. Do some studying. Figure out how you want your space to FEEL, understand fully what it will take to achieve, and that will lead you to a plan. Not that gardens always go as planned but that is part of the fun!

WIN ONE OF TWO COPIES OF “Private Edens: Beautiful Country Gardens”!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Thursday, October 20, 2016 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What makes your personal garden an Eden to you?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 10/22/2016: Congratulations to Jackie Watson and Bill Desmarais!

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  • Bill D
    Comment added October 19, 2016Reply

    My humble garden is designed around the backyard with the primary focus as a place for my children to play and learn. I planted a two apple trees when my daughter was born, and have great pictures that we can go back and compare the small whips to her as an infant and watch how they both grow and change over time.

  • Bill D
    Comment added October 19, 2016Reply

    Have posts been disabled?

  • Cindy Vincent
    Comment added October 17, 2016Reply

    My garden is an Eden to me because I live in the country and my garden is very quiet and peaceful, making it even more enjoyable when viewing the beauty of my American Rose bushes, Peonies and the large variety of annual flowers that I plant each year. I enjoy laying in my hammock among all this beauty, it's a way to get closer to nature and just unwind. So yes, my garden is my Eden.

  • amy guillaume linderman
    Comment added October 17, 2016Reply

    i have so many flowers , and also rhubarb, that were transplanted from my late grandmother's garden. also her funeral flowers are now in my garden. aelinderman@sbcglobal.net

    Comment added October 16, 2016Reply

    My personal garden is an "Eden" to me because I have worked on all of it myself for over four years. Dividing hostas, moving and removing plants, pruning, and sometimes mourning losses are all part of the pleasure of life in the garden.

  • Jackie Watson
    Comment added October 16, 2016Reply

    I think what makes my garden an Eden is the perennials are so much loved as dear old friends. I have plants that I purchased when on a trip that are special to me. I have plants that were given to me by generous friends, some which are not here to enjoy this with.

  • Sandy Zimmer
    Comment added October 16, 2016Reply

    My garden is my Eden because I can come home from work, grab a cup of tea and just sit, enjoying the beautiful colors, listening to the frogs croaking, the dragonflies zipping by and the birds that come to visit and not do anything else by relax and zone!
    Thanks for this article.

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