Trinity University Press

Places for the Spirit

Traditional African American Gardens

Hilton Als (foreword), Lowry Pei (introduction), Vaughn Sills (photographs)

A mystical and spiritual portrait of African American folk gardens in the South

Places for the Spirit is a stunning collection of more than eighty fine art photographs of African American folk gardens—and their creators—in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Through her patient search up and down small-town streets and dusty rural roads, award-winning photographer Vaughn Sills has unearthed an important element of American landscape that is quickly disappearing. These landscapes have a unique historical significance due to the design elements and spiritual meanings that have been traced to the yards and gardens of American slaves and further back to their African heritage.

In the spirit of outsider art traditions, the roots of blues music, and other folk manifestations, these gardens have a unique aesthetic and cultural significance. The gardens are places to socialize and be creative, but they also have mystical purposes: bottles and plant pots are put on tree branches or intentionally placed in the garden to capture evil spirits; pipes are placed vertically in the ground to allow the spirits of ancestors to communicate with the living. In the deceptively casual or whimsical arrangements are subtle and symbolic reminders of the divine in everyday life and the cycles of the natural world.

Places for the Spirit is a powerful testament that adds greatly to our understanding and appreciation of a vanishing element of African American culture.


  • Winner of the Christian Science Monitor Best Gardening Book Award
  • Winner of the Garden Writers Association Best Photography Book Award
  • Winner of the Bookbuilders West Book Show Certificate of Merit


“Every once in a while, a unique and wonderful book appears. [This] is one of those extraordinary books.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“What she captured with her camera is the depth of meaning that these gardeners intended.”

Washington Post

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Places for the Spirit cover
  • Price: $29.95 buy »
  • Pages: 160
  • Size: 11 x 11
  • Published: Sep 2010
  • Status: Available
  • ISBN: 9781595340641
  • B&W photos: 147


Gardens, Photography, Regional, Landscape, African American, U.S. South