John Hanson Mitchell
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Books

The Rose Cafe: Love and War in Corsica
Shoemaker & Hoard,
2007
Looking for Mr Gilbert: The Reimagined Life of an African American
Shoemaker & Hoard,
2005

Following the Sun: Fron Spain to the Hebrides
Counterpoint,
2002

The Wildest Place on Earth: Italian Gardens and the Invention of Wilderness
Counterpoint,
2001
Trespassing: An Inquiry into the Private Ownership of Land
Perseus Books,
1998
Walking Towards Walden: A Pilgimage in Search of Place
Perseus Books,
1995
Living at the End of Time
Houghton Mifflin,
1990

A Field Guide to your Own Backyard,
Countryman Press,
1985

Ceremonial Time: Fifteen Tousand Years on One Square Mile
Perseus Books,
1984


 

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An Eden of Sorts
The Natural History of My Feral Garden

Thirty years ago Mitchell made a casual survey of the living things on a tract of land that consisted primarily of white pine and no more than five other species of higher plants and no nesting birds.  Over the next three decades he replanted the land in a series of garden rooms based on the designs of his hero, the 19th century garden designer Andrew Jackson Downing who was a contemporary of his other hero in these matters, Henry Thoreau.

The great irony of the story told in this book is the that by cutting down the forest and replacing it with a human construct  --- in this case a house and garden --- he actually increased the bio-diversity of the area.  In spite of the fact that the original plot consisted of native plants, the land was essentially a desert-like environment, with very few species. Once the garden was completed, Mitchell carried out another survey.  This time, he came up with the very conservative estimate of over 2,000 species of plants and animals.

An Eden of Sorts explains how and why this came to pass.

In the end, what happened in this garden could serve as a model for a new system of private wildlife sanctuaries. In contrast to undeveloped open space, suburban lands are hardly endangered.  But if designed properly, they could, as with Mitchell’s experiment, actually increase the biodiversity of developed land.

But this is not solely an ecological document.  It is also the story of the people who were associated with this garden over the years, including three generations of children who explored the various secret garden rooms of the land, not to mention the company of former wives and husbands, in-laws and ex in-laws, uncles, aunts, grandparents, visiting dignitaries, dogs, cats, and the resident wildlife who also shared the year by year adventures in this  garden. 

© 2011 John Hanson Mitchell
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