Saturday, December 08, 2007

Carl Krippendorf... A Gardener I Wish I'd Known

Elizabeth Lawrence in her book The Little Bulbs, (without a doubt, in my mind, the finest book of American garden writing) introduced me to Carl Krippendorf, who gardened in a large woodland (which he called Lob's Woods) in Ohio. He built a house there as a young man, where he and his wife Mary lived for 64 years, during which time he steadily every year planted huge numbers of flower bulbs of all manner, which became naturalized. After his death his woods was sold to Stanley Rowe and a group of other naturalists and became part of Rowe Woods, which then formed the base for what would be the Cincinnati Nature Center, now over 1000 acres, with Krippendorf Lodge, Carl's original house, still preserved in his woodland full of flower bulbs that still bloom every spring.
I cannot imagine how delightful it must have been for Mr. Krippendorf to plant bulbs over the 64 years that he lived at Lob's Woods, and to ramble through his beautiful woodland each spring to see what was in flower, with hills and a clear creek crossed by gray bridges and lined by damp limestone ridges festooned with ferns, with large slabs of flat rock for steps leading up the sides of the steep slopes leading to yet more hills and valleys; all adrift with daffodils, and a myriad of other flowering bulbs.
Elizabeth Lawrence's small book is subtitled A Tale Of Two Gardens, for much of the first part of her book is devoted to letters written back and forth between her and Mr. Krippendorf, talking about what was blooming in their respective gardens: As soon as spring is in the air Mr. Krippendorf and I begin an antiphonal chorus, like two frogs in neighboring ponds: What have you in bloom, I ask, and he answers from Ohio that there are hellebores in the woods, and crocuses and snowdrops and winter aconites. Then I tell him that in North Carolina the early daffodils are out but that the aconites are gone and the crocuses past their best.
The pang of regret that I feel for having met Mr. Krippendorf only in my imagination doesn't just relate to his wondrous garden, however; but rather also to the lyrical gardening soul that one glimpses in his letters to Miss Lawrence, as in one written one gloomy February: I do think the last two days were the darkest I ever saw. The ground leaves have dried out, and have not the rufous color they have when wet. When wet they seem to emanate light.

In the spring when I first wander up and down hill in our modest little woodland here in eastern Iowa, looking for the first snowdrop lifting its pale flower to the warming sun, or brushing aside dead leaves to look for the first tiny winter aconite buds, I like to think Mr. Krippendorf would have enjoyed walking and talking with me.

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Great post. I love Elizabeth Lawrence's books - in fact I am presently reading "Beautiful for All Seasons" which is a collection of her newspaper columns (just published this year). I've often wondered what happened to Mr. Krippendorf's property. It is great to hear that it is being preserved.
I am positive Mr. Krippendorf would have enjoyed walking and talking with you.
Philip... I was pleased to find out it was preserved, too. I've been meaning to get that latest book. How is it... good or is it the leftovers?

Shady... I'd like to think so.
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