I’ve always enjoyed reading other people’s correspondence, whether its Samuel Pepys’ diaries, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows, or my old favorite 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.
There is a literary tradition of gardeners corresponding with other gardeners, going back to Thomas Jefferson all the way up to modern-day gardeners—and yes, even in the internet age, some still correspond by mail. And, lucky for us, sometimes the correspondence is saved, treasured, and published. Elizabeth Lawrence wrote a wonderful little booklet called “Lob’s Wood” consisting of her correspondence with Carl Krippendorf, whose wooded gardens are now owned by the Cincinnati Nature Center. Elizabeth Lawrence was as famous for writing about gardens as for creating them. Luckily for us, while gardens are transitory, garden writing is not. Reading these books will give you new insights into your own garden travails.
Synopsis from the publisher:
Renowned New Yorker editor Katharine White and Southern garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence began a correspondence in 1958 that lasted until Katharine White’s death in 1977. These letters, edited and introduced by Emily Herring Wilson, bring to life the unique friendship between two intelligent women, both avid gardeners and legendary writers. More than 150 letters went back and forth during the course of their near-20-year correspondence, though Katharine and Elizabeth would meet face-to-face only once. Whether talking about their gardens or books, friends or family, each held a special place in the other’s life.
Excerpt from the introduction (provided by B&N):
My husband, Craufurd, and I moved to Montrose twenty-three years ago. . . We settled on Hillsborough, North Carolina, primarily because of the quality of its dirt. It is a lovely old town, first developed because Native Americans and later European settlers needed fertile land to support themselves. My father spoke in hushed tones about the quality of the soil in this area. We knew of several attractive properties on the edge of town and waited until one came on the market. I often wondered what lay behind the fence separating Montrose from St. Marys Road. We saw it first the day we came to meet the son of Alexander H. Graham, the third generation of the Graham family to live on the property. Mr. Graham had recently died, and there was a chance that his sons would sell it.
I first became aware of Allen Lacy when Craufurd reported that he was enjoying the column by a garden writer in his daily Wall Street Journal. How could this be? What was a Wall Street gardener? I had visions of J. P. Morgan in a high collar with a long cigar, giving orders to his estate staff. Craufurd then started bringing the Journal home, and I read Mr. Lacy's columns during my lunch. What a surprise! Here was a garden writer who did not just write about plants or gardens. He wrote also about philosophy, religion, history, and current events. He embedded his horticulture in the wider world, not just on Wall Street but on any street. And he had style—the power to entertain, to amuse, and to inform.
From Publishers Weekly:
This book constitutes an ageless and captivating visit with 85-year-old Emily Whaley, the daughter of a South Carolina country doctor and his wife, who married a successful lawyer and moved to Charleston 60 years ago. As a special gift, Whaley's husband hired a professional designer to plan a formal garden with a "romantic natural background" for the house on Church Street, where she still lives. Thousands of people visit the garden each fall during the city's garden festival.
Chatting with William Baldwin, a writer, home designer, and fellow South Carolinian, Whaley breathlessly and delightfully describes her garden, other gardens she's known, and recollections of her childhood, with her fresh mind and mint-condition memory stitching the strands into a rich memoir. Whaley's simple, direct language conveys not just her many frank opinions but her self-described joie de vivre and appreciation of the houses and gardens in her life.
Hers is a world full of sunlight, "uncluttered space," Southern-city charms, idiosyncratic tradition, hearty gregariousness, and the ubiquitous presence of flowers. In the South, as the author describes it, gardens are not simply decorative outdoor areas but places where one lives out one's life, as in the rooms of one's house.
This is the fascinating story of a small group of eighteenth-century naturalists who made Britain a nation of gardeners and the epicenter of horticultural and botanical expertise. It’s the story of a garden revolution that began in America.
In 1733, the American farmer John Bartram dispatched two boxes of plants and seeds from the American colonies, addressed to the London cloth merchant Peter Collinson. Most of these plants had never before been grown in British soil, but in time the magnificent and colorful American trees, evergreens, and shrubs would transform the English landscape and garden forever. During the next forty years, Collinson and a handful of botany enthusiasts cultivated hundreds of American species.
The Brother Gardeners follows the lives of six of these men, whose shared passion for plants gave rise to the English love affair with gardens. In addition to Collinson and Bartram, who forged an extraordinary friendship, here are Philip Miller, author of the best-selling Gardeners Dictionary; the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, whose standardized nomenclature helped bring botany to the middle classes; and Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who explored the strange flora of Brazil, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia on the greatest voyage of discovery of their time, aboard Captain Cook’s Endeavour.
From the exotic blooms in Botany Bay to the royal gardens at Kew, from the streets of London to the vistas of the Appalachian Mountains, The Brother Gardeners paints a vivid portrait of an emerging world of knowledge and of gardening as we know it today. It is a delightful and beautifully told narrative history.
This is the third book we have written together, though separately we have written others . . . But to say ‘written separately’ makes no sense, for when two lives have been bent for so many years on one central enterprise—in this case, gardening—there really is no such thing as separately.”With these words, the renowned garden designers Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd begin their entertaining, fascinating, and unexpectedly moving book about the life and garden they share. The book contains much sound information about the cultivation of plants and their value in the landscape, and invaluable advice about Eck and Winterrowd’s area of expertise: garden design.
There are chapters about the various parts of their garden, and sections about particular plants—roses and lilacs, snowdrops, and cyclamen—and vegetables. The authors also discuss the development of their garden over time, and the dark issue that weighs more and more on their minds: its eventual decline and demise. Our Life in Gardens is a deeply satisfying perspective on gardening, and on life.