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Monday, August 10, 2009

From Elizabeth Lawrence: Past, Passalong, and Future

Allen Bush remembers his correspondence and visit with famed Southern gardener Elizabeth Lawrence—and her gift of a “reasonable” plant.


Lawrence at her garden gate with Clematis armandii 1957

Photo: Charlotte Observer

“This is the gate of my garden. I invite you to enter in: not only into my garden, but into the world of gardens – a world as old as the history of man, and as new as the latest contribution of science; a world of mystery, adventure and romance; a world of poetry and philosophy; a world of beauty, and a world of work.”

from Elizabeth Lawrence’s first Charlotte Observer column in 1957

By Allen Bush

Nursery folks – God bless ‘em – stoke the dreams of plants that can’t-go-wrong. Gardening requires eternal hope. Fortunately, there are ornamental garden plants that approach being bullet-proof. These are passalong plants that needn’t cost a thing – beloved gifts from the plant kingdom shared from one gardener to another.

The passalong routine among friends and acquaintances goes like this: “You’ve got to try it!”  And before you have a chance to think twice, this is followed with: “This has grown great for years!”  The generous gift offer of a never-grown-before plant is temptation too great to resist.  I’ve been the beneficiary of this unrestrained enthusiasm more times than I deserve.

I wander through my garden every day and think of these pass-alongers. It’s a packed house. There are dozens of tough as nails plants that include an aster from Raydon Alexander, a black gum from Mike Hayman and a gladiolus from Dick Bir.  None has been with me as long as the Oxford Orphanage Plant, a gift from Elizabeth Lawrence.

I found Elizabeth Lawrence’s Southern Gardens—A Handbook for the Middle South at the Asheville, North Carolina, library in the early 1980s. The book, first published in 1942, is a wonderful garden tale and plant resource. I’d never heard of her.

Writer Eudora Welty was a friend and admirer. Both she and Elizabeth were single daughters who dutifully shared the burden of caring for widowed mothers.  Katharine White, who sang Elizabeth’s praises in The New Yorker, corresponded with her for over twenty years. Emily Herring Wilson edited Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence – A Friendship in Letters, published in 2002.

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Posted by Julie on 08/10 at 07:04 PM
Gardening & LandscapePermalink