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February 02 , 2008

An Eden of Sorts: The Natural History of My Feral Garden


Twenty-five years ago John Hanson Mitchell cut down a 1 1/2-acre stand of seventy-five-year-old white pines and planted a garden in their place. An Eden of Sorts is a history of the plants and animals that lived on the tract over the next decades.

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The summer of 1889 will ever be memorable for its appalling disasters by flood and flame. In that period fell the heaviest blow of the nineteenth century—a blow scarcely paralleled in the histories of civilized lands. Central Pennsylvania, a center of industry, thrift and comfort, was desolated by floods unprecedented in the records of the great…

In a survey he made before taking down the pines, Mitchell counted no more than five or six flowering plants and shrubs. Over the years he created a series of fanciful garden “rooms” in the Italian style. Now, in addition to an intriguing garden of earthly delights, he has recorded more than one thousand species of plants and animals on the property. This is a paradoxical yet hopeful narrative of what can happen to a plot of land when it is properly managed.

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