Friday, December 28, 2007

Elizabeth Lawrence...

As the snow swirls outside my window, with another six inches or so predicted to fall today on top of more than a foot already present on the ground, it's a good day to look at another one of the new garden book additions to my library; in this case, the latest Elizabeth Lawrence book published just this year, Beautiful At All Seasons. In case there is a gardener alive who has not heard of Elizabeth Lawrence, she is perhaps our leading American garden writer, having published four books during her life, and another four having been added since then, the latter compiled from her long-time gardening column Through The Garden Gate in the Charlotte Observer (the books published during her life vary greatly in their reliance on her newspaper pieces). This book then, is the latest posthumous selection of her columns, being gathered and edited by Ann L. Armstrong (an accomplished garden writer herself) and Lindie Wilson, who twenty years ago bought Elizabeth Lawrence's house, and has since maintained the famous garden. One would think by now that the deep well of Ms. Lawrence's columns would be running dry, yet to my surprise this might be the best of the anthologies, even including In A Southern Garden, Lawrence's best-known and loved book, which was published during her lifetime (1904-1985). This present book is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of the editors' introductory comments and by some vintage photos of Elizabeth Lawrence, her house and her garden. As a very amateurish writer myself, it's difficult for me to define and articulate just why Lawrence's writing is so special (but while I don't understand what makes some garden writing good, I know good writing when I read it). There are no spectacular literary fireworks in her books, but just consider this quiet little passage (and remember, this is just a column she rapped off at her old desk looking out over her garden every week):
After lunch, Ginny (Mrs. McCarney) lent me warm boots and a cap, and she and I walked down to the little creek that is called Salt Run. It is nearly a mile from the house, all steeply downhill, with a pause halfway on a little wooden bridge across a ravine. Dr. McCarney calls the bridge a listening post, a place to hear the small voices of the wood. But we heard only silence deep and white.

Of the eight Elizabeth Lawrence books, I now have and have read all but Lob's Wood (which is almost unobtainable so may be one of her lesser books). My favorite by far is The Little Bulbs; partly because it is written more as a cohesive narrative, rather than being a collection of columns, and also partly because it is the most useful for my own northern garden (reading about jasmine growing in her Charlotte garden is of literary interest only, for me).
If you are a southern gardener, start with any of her books; if you are a northerner, start with The Little Bulbs... but by all means become acquainted with Elizabeth Lawrence if you like good garden writing.

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I'm also a gardener who loves Elizabeth Lawrence's writings. It's hard to put into words why, I just do. I have all but Lob's Wood, and would like to have that as well, if I could find it for a decent price. I am hoping it will show up on Google Books someday.

On her using a typewriter... I was under the impression that she hand wrote everything and someone else typed it?

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Carol... you're undoubtedly right about the typewriter, as an old picture of her desk doesn't show one. I guess I just always pictured her beating away at an old typewriter (literary license... but I edited the piece to delete my imagination).
Thank you for your recommendations. Isn't it sad that I know nothing about Elizabeth Lawrence? I shall have to rectify that condition! ;-)

Hoping you had a memorable/memory-making Christmas. Best wishes as we all look forward to 2008!
After reading one of your comments several days ago, I google searched "Elizabeth Lawrence" and had a peek at her house and her beautiful gardens, but haven't thought about reading her books.
I will certainly take time to read her books and get acquainted with her since you are urging.
Thank you for your recommendations.
Gratefully delighted
I have long wanted to read "The Little Bulbs" and now I think I shall find a copy and do just that. Thanks for the reminder!
When I started reading this post I was confused that there was a new Elizabeth Lawrence book, as I knew she was deceased. (A Duh! moment for me.) Thanks for the info - I'll have to read all her postumous books.
Shady.... thanks for your wishes.
Kylee... I'm reading now A Garden in Winter by her, and liking it, too.
MMD... I suspect we've seen about the last of the posthumous books; there are only so many of her columns (I think about 700).
Through the Garden Gate is so wonderful - I know this new Elizabeth Lawrence compilation must be mine! Thanks for writing about it, Don. There's something that seems so noble and touching about Lindie Wilson preserving and tending the garden after Miss Lawrence has gone.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose
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