In the preface to her book The Little Bulbs: A Tale of Two Gardens, one of my favorite garden writers, Elizabeth Lawrence, wrote,
“This is a tale of two gardens: mine and Mr. Krippendorf’s. Mine is a small city back yard laid out in flower beds and gravel walks, with a scrap of pine woods in the background; Mr. Krippendorf’s is hundreds of acres of virgin forest."
My unexpected pilgrimage was to the Cincinnati Nature Center which includes the hundreds of acres of virgin forest that was Carl Krippendorf’s garden, Lob's Wood, much of it still full of the thousands of daffodils, Lycoris, and other bulbs he planted wherever he could.
The Cincinnati Nature Center was one of several stops planned for a regional meeting of the Garden Writers Association. In the back of my mind, I had wondered if this nature center was anywhere near Lob’s Wood, which I came to know of through reading books by Elizabeth Lawrence, including her memoir of Mr. Krippendorf and his garden, Lob’s Wood, which is based on their ten years of correspondence.
I didn’t do any advance research about the gardens we were going to visit for the regional meeting because I hadn’t really taken to heart the lesson I learned last fall when I visited Montrose and other gardens in and around Raleigh, North Carolina. Do your research about a garden ahead of time, so that when you are there, you’ll know what you want to see in the limited time you will have.
That’s why I wasn’t sure what awaited us at the nature center. I just walked in to their visitor’s center early in the morning and saw several stacks of Lawrence’s book, Lob’s Wood, on a table.
Then I realized and confirmed that I was unexpectedly going to see the garden of Mr. Krippendorf, one of the many people Elizabeth Lawrence corresponded with extensively about flowers, bloom times, plant hardiness, and gardening in general.
We enjoyed a guided tour through the woods, now known as Rowe Woods, down limestone paths that Mr. Krippendorf had supervised the installation of, through woods that had just a few weeks before been filled with daffodil blooms, to the house known as Krippendorf Lodge that he built for his wife, Mary.
We had just a few minutes to tour the lower level of the lodge, where I looked out through leaded glass windows, into the woods.
I imagined Mr. Krippendorf and Elizabeth Lawrence enjoying the same view when she visited Lob’s Wood. And I was reminded of how she concluded her preface to The Little Bulbs:
“It is not enough to grow plants; really to know them one must get to know how they grow elsewhere. To learn this it is necessary to create a correspondence with other gardeners, and to cultivate it as diligently as the garden itself. From putting together the experiences of gardeners in different places, a conception of plants begins to form. Gardening, reading about gardening, and writing about gardening are all one; no one can garden alone.”
Soon we were leaving Lob’s Wood, Krippendorf Lodge, and the Cincinnati Nature Center to go on to the next garden. Though this pilgrimage was unexpected and brief, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Once home, I pulled my copy of The Little Bulbs off the bookshelf and put it on top of my stack of books to read next. Over the summer, I’ll browse through it, cross referencing plants in the book to what's available in bulb catalogs and picking more bulbs to order for my new gardens. Then next spring I can enjoy their blooms and compare notes with other gardeners, near and far, past and present, on when these little bulbs bloom and how well they grow.
Truly, no one does garden alone. We garden with gardeners of the past and gardeners of our present, and for the gardeners of the future.
And every once in a while, we go on an unexpected pilgrimage to visit those gardeners, and gardens, of the past...