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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Connecting with "Two Gardeners"


I finished reading Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence – A Friendship in Letters edited by Emily Herring Wilson , the February selection for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club well before February even started.

I enjoyed this book of letters, reading how Mrs. White and Miss Lawrence’s friendship grew through the years via their letters to a friendship between Katharine and Elizabeth, even though they only met in person once.

Once I finished the book, I wanted to know more about these gardeners, especially Elizabeth Lawrence. So, I went on to read No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence by Emily Herring Wilson. And now I am reading a book Elizabeth Lawrence actually wrote, Gardening For Love: The Market Bulletins. This is the book that Katharine encouraged Elizabeth to finish and publish, that was eventually published after Elizabeth’s death.

What I think has attracted me to the writings of Elizabeth Lawrence is her love of the plants themselves, her desire to find new plants, to accurately identify each plant in her garden, and to try to grow plants and observe them in her own garden before she wrote about them. She also wanted to find out how the plants grew in others’ gardens and did so through countless letters exchanged with other gardeners throughout her life.

Elizabeth often wrote to Katharine to find out what was blooming in her gardens in Maine, and I’m sure she wrote to many other gardeners to compare notes on bloom times. Reading about Elizabeth’s interest in knowing when plants bloom was the genesis of my idea of encouraging garden bloggers to post on the 15th of each month about what is blooming in their own gardens, so we can compare our bloom times.

We had our first “bloom day” on February 15th, with over 20 bloggers responding. This response to the first “bloom day” confirms for me that gardeners like to be connected with one another and to share about our gardens, even though, or perhaps because, we are often solitary beings tending our plants. When we see that first bloom of spring or finally get a stubborn perennial to flower after several years, we want to share it with other gardeners, and we can do that in mere minutes with our digital cameras and Internet connections.

Elizabeth did the same, keeping up written correspondence with many different gardeners from all walks of life, over decades in some cases, sharing about her garden and asking and encouraging others to share about their gardens. She obviously could not share as quickly and as broadly as we can today, but did it at the speed of her time, one gardener at a time. I can imagine her tending her gardens in North Carolina, seeing a new interesting bloom, deciding who to write to about it, and then going inside to write a letter and send it off with the postman the next day. One letter, one person at a time, she connected with so many gardeners.

We sometimes envy that slower pace, or what we perceive was a slower pace, of Elizabeth and Katharine’s lives. I’m sure they felt their day to day lives went quickly and they never had enough time to do all they that wanted to do, often due to their own health issues in the case of Katharine, or due to caring for aging parents, in the case of Elizabeth (whose Mother was bedridden at home for eight years after a stroke). But we still often look back at those times with longing, not only because we think people had more time to garden, but also because they had time to write letters, and time to wait for letters, and time to be connected with others.

Elizabeth Lawrence still connects with gardeners today. Through reading “Two Gardeners”, I’ve discovered a beautiful garden that existed not all that long ago, tended by a true gardener, a plants person, who left us with some wonderful books and letters to read to recall a time when gardening was about the plants, enhanced by sharing between gardeners.

This was the perfect book for my winter reading, giving me a fresh perspective on gardening, gardeners, and plants, and a renewed yearning to be out in the garden this spring, tending my own plants and sharing what I find there with others.

6 comments:

Yolanda Elizabet said...

I'm an avid reader and am currently reading 2 gardening books (among others): Dear Friend and Gardener, a correspondence between Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd and Monty Don's The Complete Gardener.

I had not heard of the book of those two ladies that you describe here. Will check it out as it sounds most interesting.

Gotta Garden said...

I did what you did and read No One Gardens Alone after reading Two Gardeners. (I did a short little book review for our mg association a couple years ago.) However, I didn't really like No One Gardens Alone...it read almost like a thesis to me and I found Elizabeth's life rather sad...I was happier thinking of her through the Two Gardeners book. Did you find that strange that their one meeting apparently didn't go well? I did...I sorta thought they would be thrilled to finally meet each other and would talk, talk, talk. Oh well.

Yes, I agree...we gardeners do like to seek out others of our ilk!

Petunia's Gardener said...

It is finally waiting for me at the library. I'll pick it up tomorrow night.

Barbee' said...

I am so glad you found those books. I remember the deep pleasure they gave me when I read them one winter a few years ago.

Another writer I've enjoyed is Henry Mitchell who wrote for the Washington Post. His wife collected his articles and had them published in book form.

Nan said...

This is a terrific posting. I have read two of the books. The Market Bulletins book was very interesting to me. Does your state have such a thing? Mine does, but it is more along the lines of machines and animals for sale. Still, it is a nice connection with agricultural interests. I don't have the book, so I can't refer to it, but there was one state she thought had the very best one. Somewhere in the south, I think. And it is so interesting that she and Katharine didn't "hit it off" when they finally met. Maybe they were both introspective gardeners than social beings? I do own the biography of her and look forward to reading it.

Annie in Austin said...

What a good post, Carol, with titles of even more books to look into!
One of the things that struck me was how long it took Elizabeth to research and find out the names of plants [remembering how long it took for me to identify a rescued Brunnera plant back in the middle 1980's], so that there was no choice but to learn at a leisured pace.
With the internet we want our info immediately!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose