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One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place Hardcover – September 8, 2011
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About the Author
Susan Haltom, Ridgeland, Mississippi, is a garden designer and preservation and maintenance coordinator of the Eudora Welty garden. She has published in Mississippi Magazine, Mississippi Gardens, Old House Journal, and Magnolia, the journal of the Southern Garden History Society.
Jane Roy Brown, Conway, Massachusetts, is a freelance travel and garden writer with a focus on historic gardens and landscapes. She is also director of educational outreach for the Library of American Landscape History. She has published in Horticulture, Preservation, Garden Design, and the Boston Globe, and she serves as a contributing editor to Landscape Architecture.
Langdon Clay’s photographs have been featured in such publications as Jefferson’s Monticello by Howard Adams and From My Chateau Kitchen by Anne Willan. His art photography can be found in museums in Paris, London, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Jackson, Mississippi.
Top customer reviews
In it, the writers trace the creation and evolution of the Welty garden and put the design into the context of the early twentieth century. Using various resources, they suggest some of the meanings and values the garden had both for Eudora and her mother, Chestine Welty, who created it. The photographs are beautiful as well as ample, with most of the photographed plants identified properly. The writers also point out certain plants and descriptions of plants that appear both in Welty's fiction and personal writing.
Yet when I had finished this book, I found myself a little puzzled. I felt I had read through several different books--the history of a modest garden, the gardeners' attitude toward it and one another, the story of a possible love affair that did not work out, the role of gardens in the early 20th century, and lots more. I had no central insights into the uniqueness of the gardeners or the influence of the garden on the writer's work. The authors depended on chronology as an organizing device and at times seemed uncertain of their task. Was it to report the history of a garden? Or---as the title certainly suggests---was it to show a gardener's relationship to her garden and to suggest what that relationship revealed about her and finally her work? In a word, this book lacks focus.
The Welty garden is a simple garden, interesting primarily because it belonged to the writer Eudora Welty. Designed by her mother, then modified by her own interests in plants like camellias, it is finally modest, certainly by this day's gardening standards. When the writers have had their go at it, it appears to have little distinctive about it.
Yet every garden that is the product of a gardener, not some anonymous design firm, is distinctive. The maker's choice of plants is either conventional or idiosyncratic, driven by personal preferences and needs, reflecting a worldview that extends beyond the garden gate. For instance, I immediately noted that Welty the gardener was far more interested in plants than in design. She learned to root and graft plants. She brought back cuttings from her WPA documentation trips around the state, begged plants from the yards of country gardeners who continued to nurture and propagate old species and varieties. She dug native plants from the countryside without serious twinges of conscience. She observed that little country towns all over Mississippi were characterized by different varieties of camellias that grew there, local plants having been disseminated from cuttings of a common parent plant, and she smiled that she was assembling them all in one place. Passalongs.
And she participates in that tradition. While Welty corresponded with sophisticated gardeners like Elizabeth Lawrence and sometimes ordered from regional nurseries, she seems to have been far more interested in the old-fashioned passalong plants that were staples in Southern gardens than in newer varieties that were more floriferous or that had larger blooms. Her choices deserved attention. In her writing, Welty often uses gardens as characterizing devices, reflections of their makers' personalities and station. I think the authors of this book would have done well to have paid more careful attention to the practice of the writer whose garden they purported to study.
Anyone who reads her stories recognizes immediately that Welty uses plants and garden design to do more than establish place. That Sister demands the fern and pulls up some of the four-o'clocks from the star-shaped bed in front of the house when she moves her residence to the Post Office in "Why I Live at the P.O." or that she immediately installs there strings on which beans and morning glories might run reveals a lot about Sister and the world in which she lived. That she knows she can tantalize her mother by mentiioning the mail order offer of "1000 seed, no two alike" tells a lot about both mother and daughter. Throughout Welty's work, one sees her use gardening not only in metaphor, although plants provide some of her finest metaphors. A book this size and on this subject should have sought more assiduously to find the gardener in the garden .
That is not to say the book is bad. Those who love Welty's work will find things of interest in it and will draw conclusions about her practices on their own. The writers have also used newly available letters and photographs. I enjoyed my ramble through this book and I was glad to learn more specifically about some of the plants Welty grew, but I felt the book needed the hand of a strong editor.
In my view, this book would have benefited from more focus, more exploration and more insight.