Garden bloggers’ book club: Two gardeners

When you’re new to gardening—and I still consider myself firmly planted in newbie soil—everything is a revelation. As the various books of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club have rolled out, it has introduced me to topics and authors about which I know nothing. Other garden bloggers, however, post about how a book is one of their favorites or one they’ve always wanted to read—they’re clearly more dug in to the world of gardening literature than I am.

This month’s book, Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence – A Friendship in Letters, edited by Emily Herring Wilson, is one I half-expected to be a little stodgy. But it surprised me from the very start with how much I enjoyed it. First of all, there were these words from Elizabeth Lawrence, which comforted me and my haphazard style of planting: “Far from being an expert, I am the most casual of gardeners…I just put out things and let them take their chances.”

Second of all, I had no idea, when Carol at May Dreams Gardens named this the book of the month, that Katharine S. White was E.B. White’s wife.

Note: I was delighted to learn more about Katharine White’s contribution to The New Yorker and to gardening, as well—I’m not relegating her to the role of wife. But that connection tied me to her more tightly from the start of the book than I might have otherwise expected. See, E.B. White’s novels, particularly The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web, were among my very favorites when I was a kid. If I recall correctly, I enlisted both my Dad and Mom to read them to me, chapter by chapter, even though I could handily read them myself.

So it’s like the transitive property of equality in Geometry. My nostalgia connects me to E.B. White, who is connected to Katharine White by marriage. Therefore, Katharine and I? We’re like old pals.

I was also taken by some of the logistics issues faced by both Katharine White and Elizabeth Lawrence. The two of them constantly spoke about the challenge of keeping up with the correspondence, while assuring each other how much they valued their communication, and they make plans again and again to see each other. Their physical paths cross only once, and Wilson describes that meeting as being “in some way disappointing.” Yet as Katharine’s life came to a close, their correspondence friendship remained as strong as ever.

The book brought to mind all the women who I “know” through the Internet, either who I’ve met through blogging, or through message boards, or through other means. Some of these women, even though I’ve never met them in person, provide me with a strong foundation of friendship and support on any number of issues.

In fact, I have a particular group of women who I consider to be among my closest friends, even though I’ve only met a few of them and may never meet some of them in person. There are people who consider that to be a little strange—how can anyone make a connection solely by computer? I direct them to this book, or to any number of other books of edited letters out on the market and say: how is this any different?

I often feel overwhelmed by my own pile of correspondence, whether that’s the number of emails in my Action folder waiting to be answered (and to those of you who are waiting to hear from me, trust that I haven’t forgotten about you…), or the cards and notes I stick in a folder on my desk labeled “Do This Now-Now-Now” or carry with me in my planner to answer in a stolen moment. Like Katharine and Elizabeth, I’m probably never going to catch up, and I just consider it a wonderful thing that my inbox and mailbox are both overflowing.

Katharine even talks about repetitive stress syndrome at one point. “I have been to the doctor, but he gave me a superficial examination and said it was roughening of the bones and told me not to bend my neck and not to work over a desk,” she writes to Elizabeth. “Great! I simply have to.” It seems that carpal tunnel syndrome and other computer-related issues aren’t the newest things under the sun after all.

Perhaps that’s the best thing about this book, from my reading. Sure, these women traded incredible insights on gardening and plants. But what I walked away with was a reminder of the depth of friendship that is possible even when friends don’t see each other very often, or even at all.


10 Responses to “Garden bloggers’ book club: Two gardeners”

  1. 1 Carol February 26, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Genie, thank you for the wonderful post on this book. So far, I think everyone seems to have approached the book with a little bit of trepidation as it is not the typical book on gardening, but came away feeling quite connected to these two gardeners in some way. As much as things have changed since these two last exchanged letters, they still seem so much the same!


  2. 2 inadvertentgardener February 26, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Carol, interesting that so many folks weren’t sure they’d like the book. I’m glad everyone tried it out and liked it! You’re right…there is much the same now as when Katharine and Elizabeth were writing — from their concern over weather and illness and environmental issues to the things I mentioned above. Definitely a good read. Thanks for picking it!

  3. 3 Yolanda Elizabet February 27, 2007 at 6:18 am

    Hi Genie,

    Found you via garden voices. Just read your post about Two Gardeners and it’s great. IMO it’s not strange to form friendships via email because when we write, our personalities shine through. Sometimes more in writing than in real life.

    I’ve added the book to my to read list!

  4. 4 inadvertentgardener February 27, 2007 at 6:21 am

    Yolanda, I think you’ll enjoy the book — I certainly did! Glad you found me, and thanks for visiting.

  5. 5 Kim February 28, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    What a great post… I agree with you on the parallels between interacting with fellow garden bloggers and the correspondence in this book. We just get replies more quickly, and share with more than one person at a time!

  6. 6 inadvertentgardener February 28, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    Thanks, Kim! You’re right — the advent of the Internet has allowed for the kind of multi-directional conversation only hinted at in Katharine and Elizabeth’s letters. I love it!

  7. 7 Colleen March 1, 2007 at 6:58 am

    I really enjoyed this review, Genie, and I’m glad you compared it to our blogging. I’m in the same boat as you…I consider several of the other women bloggers to be my friends, even though most likely we’ll never meet. I would even argue that some of these women know me better than certain neighbors and family who see me fairly often, if only because we correspond about things that actually matter to us, and don’t spend as much time on the inanities of weather and gossip :-)

  8. 8 Annie in Austin March 1, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Nice insights, Genie – about friendship, writing and even geometry! Your affection for E B White is making me think I’d better read Charlotte’s Web or The Trumpet of the Swan… they were not part of my childhood.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. 9 kate March 1, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    I am glad that I came upon your blog tonight. Coincidentally, I have just finished reading ‘Onward & Upward in the Garden’ by Katharine White. E.B. White wrote a wonderful introduction. I particularly liked his comment about how his wife never dressed for gardening – that “she was a spur-of-the-moment escapee from the house … she merely wandered out into the cold and the wet, into the sun and the warmth, wearing whatever she put on that morning.”

    Your blog makes for wonderful reading – I have added your blog to my gardening links. Thank you!!

  10. 10 inadvertentgardener March 1, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Colleen, that’s a good point about the substance of conversation. That really does make a difference, doesn’t it?

    Annie, they’re both excellent…although heartbreaking…reads. I highly recommend them!

    Kate, I loved that comment by E.B. White as well — great stuff! Thanks so much for stopping by and for the sweet compliment. I appreciate it!

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