Friday, May 30, 2008

Garden Bloggers Book Club

I am excited to participate in my first Garden Bloggers Bookclub. This month, one of my favorite gardeners is the focus of our reading. Elizabeth Lawrence was a wonderful gardener and writer. Well-known in the mid-twentieth century, she was an expert in her field. Most inspiring to me is the ability Elizabeth had to reach out to others. She is a symbol for the camaraderie gardeners achieve.

Lawrence corresponded with gardeners all over the country and encouraged others to send her information about what bloomed in her garden when. Her book The Little Bulbs focuses on one special relationship she had with a gardener who lived half a country away. In her preface, Lawrence state, "There are other gardens and gardeners that must enter into this tale. Some I have seen, and some I know only from letters or books, but all these gardens are as real to me as my own." She believed that, "Gardening, reading about gardening, and writing about gardening are all one; no one can garden alone."

My first exposure to Lawrence was through the recently published book Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters edited by Emily Herring Wilson. Through their personal correspondence, the book reveals the relationship of Lawrence and Katharine S. White who was the wife of famed Charlotte' Web author E.B White. (Mr. White is well-known to me and is a favorite of my daughter through this book, The Trumpet of the Swan and Stewart Little. All of his stories encourage children to respect nature, which is especially attractive to me.) As an archivist who has spent a good portion of her adult life handling original historical materials, I am especially excited by the format of Two Gardeners. Next to a diary, personal correspondence digs deepest into the psyche of the writer. It offers the reader an honest look at a person. through original documents we can form our own opinions about those we study, rather than relying on the observations of another writer.

Two Gardeners provides valuable information about the history of gardening, gardening methods, well-known gardeners from the mid twentieth century, and the book is a valuable resource for women's studies.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts. I love it for despite being acknowledged by others as an authority, Lawrence is humble. She encourages White's gardening efforts by playing down her own expertise. and states in a letter from 1959, "I can't answer your questions because I don't know the answers. Far from being an expert, I am the most causal gardener. I don't even own a spray. When things get sick I destroy them. I haven't divided daffodils for years. I just put out things and let htem take their chances. When I write about the way things should be done, I quote an expert. I am a writer. In my garden everything grows on top of everything else and I let them fight it out...I have never found any ground cover that is satisfactory for little bulbs." It gives me hope that I can be a "gardener" too. This statement encourages me to experiment and try my best. (I should also note that White too was an experienced gardener. She is best knownby gardners for her column in the New Yorker called "Onward and Upward.")

I must end this by explaining that Ms. White was a typical northern "Yankee," while Lawrence was a southerner. This divide made their relationship even more special. It shows how a garden camaraderie can bridge gaps, making geography and other incidentals irrelevant. Gardening makes our differences something to cherish and explore. I have learned this from the camaraderie I am developing with my own international garden friends on blotanical


Carol said...

Wonderful! That quote you pulled from Two Gardeners is one I missed when I read that book awhile ago. I think it captures how Lawrence must have felt about herself. I think she loved plants and gardening, and connecting with other avid gardeners to share her passion. To some extent, that describes many of us who blog about our gardens. More than a few of us have commented that if she were alive today, Elizabeth would have a garden blog and it would be very popular!

Thanks for joining in for the book club. I'll be posting the virtual meeting late tomorrow.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

The quote made me smile. Thanks for joining in. It's always great to see what others thought of a book.~~Dee

Esther Montgomery said...

It's funny but, although I couldn't have gardened without learning at least a little about it from others,I always want to garden alone.

Sometimes, I'll garden in the rain - specially so no-one will follow me.


Annie in Austin said...

Hi Melissa,

I think you'll enjoy being part of Carol's book club!
Two Gardeners was a wonderful book and you chose a great quote which makes us feel we know EL a little better.

I hope you get to read Through the Garden Gate some day, too.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Annie at the

Gail said...

I just joined the Book Club myself so
welcome to another newbie! You wrote a wonderful post on EL. You captured I believe the essence of her spirit. She was generous, humble and passionate....

Clay and Limestone