Wayne Winterrowd, garden expert and writer, dies at 68

By Adrian Higgins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2010; 7:26 PM

Wayne Winterrowd, a plantsman and writer who drew on the lush gardens of his Louisiana childhood to form a paradise in the frigid hills of New England, died Sept. 17 at his home in Readsboro, Vt. He was 68.

Mr. Winterrowd died of a heart attack at North Hill, the 23-acre farmstead and garden that he and his partner, later spouse, Joe Eck, created over 33 years.

To their readers, North Hill became famous through their joint books about planting and cultivating what had been a heavily wooded mountain in southern Vermont near the Massachusetts border.

They set about clearing some of the land and exploiting the terrain to create incredibly rich and plant-diverse gardens along a mountain stream, in upland meadows and through meandering woodland. In one area alone, they planted 100,000 daffodil bulbs. Most notably, they introduced gardeners everywhere to the principles of using horticultural techniques to make plants hardier than generally thought.

They lived off the land, with poultry, pigs, dairy cows, and an abundant fruit and vegetable garden. Mr. Winterrowd was an inveterate cook and raconteur. He and Eck met in Boston in the 1970s, and when they first moved to Vermont, they supported themselves as grade school and high school teachers of French, English and Latin.

Once their horticultural careers were launched, they were in high demand as garden lecturers and designers to groups and clients around the country. The couple chronicled their exploits in a series of garden books, including "A Year at North Hill" (1995), "Living Seasonally" (1999) and "Our Life in Gardens" (2009).

Anticipating a renewed interest in annual and tropical plants, Mr. Winterrowd wrote solo books on tender exotic plants including an encyclopedia titled Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens (2004).

In it, he spoke of his formative years learning to garden with his aunt, who lived in a village next to Lake Pontchartrain, and discovering the wonder of tropical plants. Later, his father would take him on summer vacations to Florida and Cuba.

"There, another whole range of plants grew, enlarging even more my sense of all the magical things that could be planted once one broke away from the limitations of mere hardiness," he wrote.

Wayne Rudolf Winterrowd was born in Shreveport, La., on Oct. 29, 1941. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English and French from Louisiana State University. Mr. Winterrowd and Eck married in 2009 after Vermont legalized same-sex marriages.

In an interview last year with The Washington Post, they explained how they wrote their books together: Eck would structure and write a draft chapter and turn it over to his partner to put in "all the little creatures. Wayne's sense of invention - and it's been true of the garden as well - is far greater than mine."

They were at work on a book about food gardening, which Eck said he will complete on his own.

In addition to his spouse, Mr. Winterrowd is survived by the couple's adopted son, Fotios Bouzikos of New York; and a brother.

Winterrowd told The Post that in all his years with Eck, they quarreled only twice, once over the placement of tree in the garden. Mr. Winterrowd wanted it planted askew, for effect. "It takes a lot of courage to plant a tree crooked," he said.

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