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Required Reading: Home Winds, A Mother’s Garden

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Required Reading: Home Winds, A Mother’s Garden

May 10, 2017

How to leave behind land that your family has tended for four decades? When Betsy Michel was in the process of trading life at Home Winds, her 200-acre farm in Morris County, New Jersey, for a New York City apartment, her grown children started brainstorming ways to bring a piece of the county with her.

Betsy’s parents had bought the farm in 1965 from Gill St. Bernard’s, the private school next door. And in 1976, when Betsy and her husband, the late Mickey Michel, and their three kids moved from Paris back to the States, they settled at Home Winds where the couple, both lawyers, became gentleman farmers and amateur arborists. It was the trees that her children decided could accompany Betsy as a visual memory: they commissioned photographer and self-described “advocate for trees” Benjamin Swett to visit Home Winds several times over the course of a year to capture its tallest residents. The plan was to pick five photographs to hang in Betsy’s new quarters, but the work was so compelling that Betsy’s daughter, Katie Michel, owner of Planthouse Gallery in NYC and an artist herself, decided it deserved a bigger audience. One idea led to another and Home Winds is now a newly published book—and more.

Photography by Benjamin Swett, courtesy of Planthouse Gallery.

 On the road to the main house, a flowering crabapple tree is surrounded by daffodils that Betsy and her kids planted back in the late Seventies: &#8\2\20;They&#8\2\17;re a mix of bulbs that we put in over a few years,&#8\2\2\1; she told us. &#8\2\20;I&#8\2\17;d dig the holes, and they each had jobs placing the bulbs, sprinkling in bone meal, and adding soil and water.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: On the road to the main house, a flowering crabapple tree is surrounded by daffodils that Betsy and her kids planted back in the late Seventies: “They’re a mix of bulbs that we put in over a few years,” she told us. “I’d dig the holes, and they each had jobs placing the bulbs, sprinkling in bone meal, and adding soil and water.”
A trio of dawn redwood trees stand next to the corn crib. These deciduous conifers, Swett explained, were thought to be extinct: &#8\2\20;In the \1940s, the tree was discovered by a forester in China who connected with a fossil researcher in Japan. Seeds were sent around the world, and they began to grow everywhere.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: A trio of dawn redwood trees stand next to the corn crib. These deciduous conifers, Swett explained, were thought to be extinct: “In the 1940s, the tree was discovered by a forester in China who connected with a fossil researcher in Japan. Seeds were sent around the world, and they began to grow everywhere.”
Swett ventured to the farm with his camera in all seasons.
Above: Swett ventured to the farm with his camera in all seasons.

He’s the author of the just-republished book New York City of Trees, which is how Katie first met him: he was standing on her driveway north of Manhattan capturing a 300-year-old cucumber magnolia. “His photographs are love letters to trees,” she says.

In addition to planting most of the trees, Betsy and Mickey put in the pond, which the family used for fishing, skating, and hockey games.
Above: In addition to planting most of the trees, Betsy and Mickey put in the pond, which the family used for fishing, skating, and hockey games.

Added onto many times over the years, the 19th-century farmhouse has turrets and a back porch. Betsy recently sold it back to Gill St. Bernard’s (which had formerly used the house as a dorm) and gave the school much of the land, which is now in a NJ farmland trust and will be preserved for agricultural use in perpetuity.

In addition to being beautifully cared for, the trees, Swett points out, are regularly shaped underneath by hungry deer—&#8\2\2\1;it&#8\2\17;s like a haircut.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: In addition to being beautifully cared for, the trees, Swett points out, are regularly shaped underneath by hungry deer—”it’s like a haircut.”

A linden tree stands here between two cinderblock farm buildings surrounded by hay fields and wet lands. There are cows, pigs, goats, chickens—the Michel children had morning egg delivery routes—and two donkeys in residence at Home Winds.

In autumn colorful maple trees tower above a kousa dogwood (scroll down to see the dogwood  in spring on the cover of Home Winds).
Above: In autumn colorful maple trees tower above a kousa dogwood (scroll down to see the dogwood  in spring on the cover of Home Winds).

Wanting the book to be about more than a NJ farm, Katie sent Swett’s photos to singer Heather Woods Broderick, who composed an ethereal ballad printed as running poetry alongside the images; it is also on a 7-inch vinyl disc that comes packaged with the book.”Art can stir emotions in a way that scientific writing can’t,” says Katie. “Seeing these images and hearing the music, I want people to think about the environment: Trees are one of the planet’s basic buildings blocks and they’re having a much harder time now.”

Swett made a trek to New Jersey during a big snowstorm—with a striped umbrella attached to his tripod—and came away with this portrait of Japanese cherry trees.
Above: Swett made a trek to New Jersey during a big snowstorm—with a striped umbrella attached to his tripod—and came away with this portrait of Japanese cherry trees.
The same Japanese cherries in late April. The pond is known as Lake Betsy—&#8\2\2\1;as in Louise and Victoria,&#8\2\2\1; says Betsy.
Above: The same Japanese cherries in late April. The pond is known as Lake Betsy—”as in Louise and Victoria,” says Betsy.

Home Winds, \$\29.95, record included, is available from Planthouse Gallery in New York City, where an installation of Swett&#8\2\17;s photos is on view through June \20.
Above: Home Winds, $29.95, record included, is available from Planthouse Gallery in New York City, where an installation of Swett’s photos is on view through June 20.
Woods Broderick made a video of her song set on the farm—see it on Stereogum—and all digital proceeds from the sale of Home Winds, the single, go to institutions fighting climate change.

For more Required Reading (and gift ideas for gardener mothers), take a look at:

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Product summary  

Heather Woods Broderick

Home Winds

$29.95 USD from Planthouse Flat File

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