Hennessy leads to the search for Houdyshel

Knock Out Rose, I don't think Hennessey would approve
I found Roy Hennessey unexpectedly the other evening while reading What There is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell.  While most of the letters are about writing and publishing and family, there are a fair number of gardening references, especially about roses.

Maxwell wrote to Welty that he had succumbed to the diaries of Roy Hennessey and had purchased a copy of Hennessey's book, Hennessey on Roses (1942).  In the next letter, Welty wrote that she had also purchased the book but was disappointed because Hennessey's wife did a fair amount of editing, and it was not like his catalogs, "not by a long shot".

That's all it took for me to run off to the Internet and fall down into a rabbit hole looking for Roy Hennessey. I found his book and ordered a cheap copy of it. As Welty indicated, he started the book with a tribute to his wife for chasing after him and nagging him into making it a book anyone could read and understand.

In another letter, Welty suggested to Maxwell that he should read Hennessey's catalog, and enclosed a sample in one of her letters, "because that's his real style".  Later, Maxwell referred to him as a madman.

I await delivery of his catalog, from 1961-62.

In the meantime, down in the rabbit hole, I ran into Katharine S. White who also wrote about Hennessey in her book Onward and Upward in the Garden (1979).  Hennessy, according to White, was mad at Jackson & Perkins, mad at a professor at Cornell, mad at the state of Arizona, and mad at the American Rose Society. She said she found him wearing and wrote how she would soothe herself after Hennessey by turning to another brochure, Bulbs for Pots and Spring (or Fall) Planting written by another nurseryman named Cecil Houdyshel.

White described Houdyshel's brochures as "collector's items" and "important reference books for any serious gardener".  She went on to describe how Houdyshel started each brochure with a letter which began with "Dear Floral Friends" because he thought of his customers as his friends. She wrote that he was gentle and scholarly.

I readily found Cecil Houdyshel on the internet in the form of a lovely pink Crinum named after him. There is also an Iris bearing his name. But nowhere could I find a copy of any of his brochures, except as part of some collections of nursery catalogs and brochures locked away in university archives.

I'm still looking.

I would much rather read Houdyshel, gentle and scholarly, when I'm reading about gardening, than read Hennessey, mad and wearing, and according to White, not all that fond of "eggsperts".

My preference for such reading extends to today and the garden writers of today. I believe wrapping good gardening knowledge in a kind and gentle package makes it more appealing to a broader audience. The writing is about gardening, not the writer.

When the information is bound up with sharp barbs and anger, the writer loses me, and I'm sure others, and whatever message he or she had to share about gardening is hard to find amongst the negativity.

Give me Houdyshel writing over Hennessey writing any day, just based on what White, Welty, and Maxwell had to say long ago.

Oh, and really, truly, give me, find me, any Houdyshel writing.  I will need Houdyshel as the White  prescribed antidote after reading Hennesey.  But I cannot find anything written by Houdyshel that is readily available online. I'll keep looking, though, because good writing like that should not be, cannot be, lost to the gardening world.


  1. You often find the most interesting things to read. I find a lot of the old text written is difficult to read. I hope you find your prey.


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