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No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence by Emily Herring Wilson

  • Author: Emily Herring Wilson
  • Book title: No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence
  • Category: Biographies & Memoris
  • Subcategory: Arts & Literature
  • Publisher: Beacon Pr (September 30, 2004)
  • Pages: 334
  • ISBN: 080708560X
  • ISBN13: 978-0807085608
  • Rating: 4.5
  • Votes: 607
  • Other formats: azw mbr lrf doc
The first biography of the renowned Southern gardening writer by the editor of the acclaimed book Two GardenersElizabeth Lawrence (1904–1985) lived a singular, contradictory life. She was a true Southerner; a successful, independent gardening writer with her own newspaper column and numerous books to her credit; a dutiful daughter who cared for her elders and always lived with her mother; a landscape architect; an accomplished poet; a friend of literary figures like Eudora Welty and Joseph Mitchell; and a woman people called “St. Elizabeth” behind her back. Lawrence earned many fans during her lifetime and gained even more after her death with the reissue of many of her classic books. When Emily Herring Wilson edited a collection of letters between Lawrence and famed New Yorker editor Katherine S. White in Two Gardeners, she found legions of readers, in the South and elsewhere, who were eager to know more about the legendary Lawrence.Now, one hundred years after her birth, No One Gardens Alone tells for the first time the story of this fascinating woman. Like classic biographies of literary figures such as Emily Dickinson or Edna St. Vincent Millay, this book reveals Lawrence in all her complexity and establishes her, at last, as one of the premier gardeners and writers of the twentieth century.

7 Reviews
Vetibert
Miss Lawrence, like Emily Dickinson, never married, but there was a secret love! (Besides gardening!) Readable and enjoyable book that made me wish I'd met Miss Lawrence.
Celace
EXCELLENT
Zymbl
An outstanding biography of an outstanding woman and gardener.
I read it avidly and then immediately reread it! I wish we had
been friends even though she had many many gardening
friends. Plus an unusually loving and extended family.
You will treasure this book.
Ance
The photograph on the front cover is a true herald of the delights of this superb biography of Elizabeth Lawrence, "No One Gardens Alone." A slender, fair-haired lady with surprisingly strong eyebrows gazes happily,adoringly at three blossoms as tall as she is and almost as big. The flowers (hydrangea? marigolds on mega-steroids?) gaze adoringly back.

Readers can be justifiably fascinated by a garden writer whose books are at once reticent and forth-coming. Lawrence wrote such classics as "The Little Bulbs," cited after more than 30 years in today's gardening books. Those in search of botanical knowledge of what plants to grow and how to grow them would also meet Mr. Krippendorf and "Lob's Wood," the independent and feisty Miss Dornan who preserved plants native to the South, that legendary editor and writer Mrs. E. B. White from Maine, Mrs Chestina Welty and her daughter Eudora, and a Canterbury tales procession of farm women, nurserymen, other passionate gardeners, as well as redoubtable Mrs Lawrence, her mother and fellow gardener.

Until this biography, however, much was known about Lawrence's gardens in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC, but little of the woman who wrote with such enthusiasm and elegance.The product of a decade of clearly painstaking research, Emily Herring Wilson has brought us a garden of earthy delights in a superb biography, satisfying as much as possible our interest in the making of a gardener and of her gardens.

Lawrence came from a time and place where families remembered directly the grandparents and great grandparents from the Revolution and the Civil War.
Born into two such families, she was a soft-spoken Southerner, a forthright talker, and a lady who considered the use of first names even after a year of correspondance a great step. Her life was shaped by the expectations that the young would care for the elderly, at home mind you, and their feelings and needs would take priority----priority over marraige, work, and almost anything else. Yet Lawrence spent four years in New York at Barnard College, making lifelong friends with two brilliant students; she traveled to Europe writing cheerful letters and more melancholy diaries; loving from earliest childhood plants and gardens, she stayed within the family circle physically and roamed a world of friends with whom she corresponded in thousands of letters----and she was among the first women to complete a rigorous program in landscape design in North Carolina.

In the archives of friends and family and Lawrence's own papers, Wilson discovered two blossomings of love, once in the springtime of her life and later, in her early fall with a much older man. One story is told in her own words in an essay written very privately for her dear friends, writing mentors, and neighbors, Emily and Ann Bridgers. The other story is gleaned from letters and the recollections of her cherished niece and nephew. Both are bitter-sweet, these songs of innocence and experience and one had a very deep influence.

Each of the 23 chapters of "No One Gardens Alone" (sequenced chronologically) brings such vividly told stories, illuminating the world in which her books and articles were written and her struggles to get them published. Born in 1904, she died in 1985, the arc of her life covering much of our own recent history. Graced with an excellent bibliography, thorough footnotes and well-chosen illustrations and photographs, this book could be an enduring pleasure for lovers of history, biography, and garden paths. Happily, Lawrence's own books and the excellent compilation of the letters between Katharine White and Elizabeth Lawrence are available for our reading on days too wet or cold for us to be out and about in our own gardens or visiting the gardens of others. Great thanks are due to Emily Herring Wilson, a biographer who brings Elizabeth Lawrence and her world so vividly to life.

My one quibble is that the botanical illustrator is not mentioned. If the drawings were commissioned, the artist did a fine job and deserves our appreciation. If they were taken from an archive or book, even so: who drew them?
Reddefender
To many gardeners in the south, Elizabeth Lawrence was a source of inspriation as well as an icon. Her first book, "A Southern Garden," published in 1942, has achieved a classic status today and it is a book that readers return to again and again for the pleasure of reading as well as Lawrence's opinions on certain plants. Lawrence lived her entire life in North Carolina taking care of her mother, writing and creating her famous garden. Her first garden was the one her mother created in Raleigh, N.C. Later, mother and daughter moved to Charlotte, N.C. to be nearer to Lawrence's sister and it was here that Elizabeth created her most famous garden. In addition to "A Southern Garden," Lawrence published several more books during her lifetime - "The Little Bulbs" and "Gardens In Winter" as well as writing a weekly column for The Charoltte Observer. A manuscript that she was working on at the time of her death - "Gardening for Love," was published posthumously.

Lawrence was a keen observer of plants and kept meticulous records of bloom dates and her experiences growing them. Her interest was not confined to her own garden though - she corresponded with many gardeners throughout the United States (some well known, some not) and recorded their bloom dates to compare with her own.

A biography of Lawrence's life has been long overdue and author Herring has done a great job depicting the life of this extradordinary woman. Granted, Lawrence led a fairly staid life, but there are some surprises along the way (for example, she did receive a marriage proposal in her later years!). What the book notably achieves is exploring the special friendship that existed between Lawrence and her friends and letter correspondents (many of which - Caroline Dornan, William Lanier Hunt, Katherine White, etc. - are profiled in detail). The title itself refers to a quote from Lawrence which emphasizes that gardening is not a solitary endeavor.
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