Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: A Book Review

For the past several weeks, at the end of the day, I’ve been enjoying a new book of letters, Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener edited by Emily Herring Wilson. (John F. Blair $19.95)

Long time readers and Elizabeth Lawrence fans will likely remember that Wilson also edited Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence--A Friendship in Letters and wrote No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence.

In doing the research for No One Gardens Alone, Wilson discovered these letters that Lawrence wrote in the 1930’s and 1940’s to her mentor, Ann Preston Bridgers*, and recently edited them for publication in this new book.

Reading these letters is giving me even more insight into one of my favorite, perhaps my favorite, garden writer, Elizabeth Lawrence. She writes to Ann about far more than gardening, but always there seems to be something about the garden sprinkled throughout the letters.

I enjoyed reading her letter of August 20, 1940, when she wrote to Ann, “If you get back before I do… and can find time to look into my garden, will you see if Nerine undulata is in bloom, and if it is, pick it when all of the flowers are out, and put it in your refrigerator until I get back. It bloomed last year while I was gone, and I have never seen it, and it is the most exciting bulb I have. I enclose a map of where it is, and of other things that might bloom.”

On July 18, 1941, she wrote to Ann, “Mr. [William T.] Couch say that when he comes upon a book he likes, he does not read it through, but lays it aside to save for a time of despair. I said that I would not dare read any words that I had not already read (and read often) in that mood, and that I turned to Barrie or Kipling. He said he had never read Barrie. Thinking it over later, I thought, but I wouldn’t read anything. I would weed.”

Later in the spring of 1943, she wrote, “Did I tell you that Mr. Bolton [a neighbor] has cut down everything on his side of the fence and planted a Victory Garden? The garden is adorable. Mr. Bolton looks at it four or five times a day and brings friends who discuss varieties and seasons with him. He says his peas are further along than any he has seen, and they look very pretty and pale green with their white blooms.”

For Elizabeth Lawrence fans, this book is a treasure, providing further insight into how she lived, wrote, entertained, traveled, and gardened.

For anyone who loves books of letters, this book will remind you of a time when people wrote letters to one another, sent them off in the mail, and then waited for a return letter.

In that spirit, I’m taking this book at a slower pace, reading and absorbing it a few letters a time, allowing it to transport me back to Raleigh, North Carolina where Elizabeth Lawrence lived with her parents across the street from her friend and mentor Ann Preston Bridgers…


*Ann was “a founder of the Raleigh Little Theatre and coauthor of Coquette, a Broadway hit starring Helen Hayes and a film for which Mary Pickford won an Oscar. Elizabeth and Ann were two women of different generations who did not conform to popular images of the Southern lady. Ann encouraged Elizabeth to find a way to live as she wished and guided her writing toward articles for women’s magazines and gardening magazines. Elizabeth found her dream life living and gardening at home as shown through her letters to Ann Bridgers.”


Most readers of my blog are aware that I am fascinated with Elizabeth Lawrence and enjoy reading her books, the compilations of her newspaper columns, her letters, and her biography. Most are also aware that a quote from Elizabeth Lawrence inspired me one cold, snow winter day to suggest the comparison of blooms across all our gardens on the 15th of the month, now known as Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. I assume that through all the references to Lawrence sprinkled through out my blog, the publisher of this book found me and offered me a copy to read and review.


Please check out the Human Flower Project for another review of this book.


  1. Carol, I too, am a huge fan of EL. I look forward to reading these letters.

    For those in Charlotte September 25/26, The Elizabeth Lawrence Garden will open for the Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour. The Garden Conservancy was instrumental in the preservation of Miss. Lawrence's garden.

    Other wonderful gardens will open for the tour, as well, so this will be a destination garden tour weekend.


  2. Carol - I like this post! :) I will have to find this book to read. And there is something wonderful about REAL mail! :)

  3. I need to read this book. Elizabeth Lawrence was a fascinating person, and I'd like to learn more about her.

  4. I'm a great lover of reading letters. I'll be looking for this book. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. I too am a fan of EL - and I'm off to the library today to order this book. Thanks for the review.

  6. Doesn't it make you wistful, sometimes, for that time when people wrote letters and waited for one in return? But I remember I never wrote all the letters back then that I meant to.

  7. I have that wonderful book and can't wait to read it. Love E. Lawrence as you know. Thank goodness she wrote of gardening. I use many of her ideas, and it's lovely to know she also had a mentor. We all them don't we?~~Dee

  8. Lucky you, Carol! It sounds like a wonderful book - thanks for telling us about it. I wonder if Miss Lawrence would get a kick about how often she's still quoted and how some of us wish there was a way to get her stamp of approval on what we're doing in our gardens.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. This sounds really good, I have been looking for something new to read and this sounds perfect. thanks for letting us know.

  10. Carol, This is one of those synchronicities; I've been re-reading Two Gardeners in preparation for writing a review of it as part of my "Favorite Garden Books" series. After getting reacquainted with Elizabeth Lawrence through her correspondence with Katharine White, I'd love to read more of her letters and will look for Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence. Thanks for calling it to my attention. -Jean


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