A perceptive biography of one of the country’s great gardeners and gardening writers.
Wilson, who previously edited her subject’s correspondence with Katharine S. White (Two Gardeners, 2002), atmospherically evokes the life, milieu, and work of Elizabeth Lawrence (1904–85), who cared as much about the meaning as the making of gardens. Though she traveled and had a wide circle of friends, Lawrence never really left home, Wilson notes; her house, garden, family, and church were the cornerstones of her existence. Except for her years at Barnard College in New York, she lived in North Carolina with her widowed mother, first in the family home in Raleigh, and then in Charlotte. In Raleigh she and her mother together created a showcase garden, but the Charlotte grounds and house were both designed by Lawrence, who used her garden as a laboratory as well as a refuge. The eldest daughter of a well-born southern family, she had, since childhood, been interested in plants, which she collected and studied. Originally intending to be a poet, she abandoned the idea after numerous rejections, but her nonfiction, including a weekly gardening column in the Charlotte Observer, was infused with a distinctive literary sensibility that won her a wide circle of general readers. An intensely private person who valued solitude (though she advised that no one can garden alone), Lawrence was reticent about her own emotions. Wilson does track down a failed love affair in New York, but Lawrence never married, remained close to her family, and enjoyed a wide circle of interesting friends that numbered White and Eudora Welty among them. Her books, especially A Southern Garden, The Little Bulbs, and Gardens in Winter, are now regarded as classic examples of the best garden-writing, combining as they do practical information with personal observation, and evincing an abiding sense of gardening as a metaphor for life.
Sensitive and luminously written.