Wayne was half the soul of North Hill, that magical northern place of verdant gardens, music, farm animals, and good food, created, refined, and nurtured for several decades in partnership with Joe Eck. We, the public, were privy to their life there through their writings in a number of entrancing books, the most recent being Our Life in Gardens.
A few of us were even more fortunate. Wayne was an inveterate letter-writer, effortlessly filling pages in a manner more common in an earlier century. For a number of years, he and I carried on a conversation through e-mail, weekly, sometimes daily, about our separate lives, what filled our days, about our thoughts and feelings. In this way we became intimate with each other, more than our periodic visits could possibly afford.
Wayne was an early riser, routinely composing his letters before Joe was awake, before it was time to get breakfast, sitting at an ample desk in his charmingly arranged bedroom with his adored canaries for company. In those early morning hours, he wrote of their travels, to give talks or design gardens, always describing the place and the people with a
masterly eye for detail, invariably inserting an appropriate quote from some classic novel or play or poem that I might have read but certainly had forgotten, for his memory was prodigious, and literature was a life blood, infusing his thoughts. But mostly Wayne wrote about their life at North Hill. The weather was recorded, of course, so vital a detail to us gardeners, and always what was happening in the garden. In the dead of winter with snow piled outside the windows he described the camellias flowering in the little greenhouse off the kitchen, and how he would pick one of two for the table. He wrote of the view from the bathroom window when the stewartia was covered with ravishing white saucers in June. In early spring he marvelled at their field of daffodils and at the succesion of magnolias opening their waxy cups and scenting the air in defiance of frost. He offered precious tidbits of gardening advice, how best to grow the primrose seed he sent us, in a flat left out all winter, or how the handsome Begonia sutherlandii he gave us would go dormant in late fall, but could be revived the following spring.
He wrote too about their adventures with their animals, how the calf got loose and was caught finally by their treasured helper John who had a way with the beasts; how they fattened their two pigs in early fall with heirloom apples that were a windfall from the orchard at Scott Farm, providing them with a last feast for a month or two before they were slaughtered.
He wrote about their nest, how he would polish the kitchen floor before company arrived, and spend winter days painting one room and then another, and lovingly rearranging their collection of art and artifacts, paintings and crockery. Music was a huge part of Wayne’s life with Joe, and they invited musicians to come give concerts in the intimacy of their living room where Kipling’s piano had pride of place.
Wayne reported who was coming to visit–their beloved adopted son Fotios and his friends most frequently, but also a stream of visitors and houseguests in spring and summer. He used to say that he and Joe were hermits, which was demonstrably untrue, except perhaps in the depths of winter. Always, at the end of a letter, he described in detail what he was cooking for his friends and family– the chicken pot pie made with
broth from one of their old hens, the pork chops or ribs with green Egyptian onions pulled from the vegetable garden when the earth was still cold and damp in April. Food was one of his gifts, the making of food, and he planned his menus way in advance–he said he didn’t like surprises. The meals he made were, for him, an offering of love, an expression of the place.
In his letters, he spoke of his feelings, struggling occasionally with depression in the long winters, and even briefly in mid-summer, feeling deflated after the fresh thrill and spectacular show of spring in their garden. Wayne was sometimes nervous in company, tense and overly-excited, due to an innate shyness, I think. But at his desk, the words, the thoughts, the ease of friendship flowed from his pen, or keys, beautifully expressed, without hesitation or consciousness. He was a natural writer.
He often advised me like an older brother, though he was a year or two younger, always encouraging me, admonishing me to write and write some more, not letters but books, offering to read my efforts, his love and support seeping through the computer where our dialogues were captured. I cannot yet grasp that our conversation has ended, that our wonderful friendship is no more. But, at least, we can all be comforted knowing that he has left his voice behind on the printed page.
Wayne died of heart failure at North Hill on Friday, September 17.