Seeds of Friendship

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Garden-writing is always either grimly concerned with the nuts and bolts of gardening’s practicalities or with its latest and flashiest fashions. The first kind is written by mere doers, the second by mere puffers, therefore neither is of any interest as writing. Gardening, and by extension writing about gardening, is something done better in Britain than anywhere else, certainly better than anywhere else in the English-speaking world. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again, dear reader. A single slim volume, Gardening for Love by Elizabeth Lawrence, delicately but devastatingly disposes of all those fallacies.

Miss Lawrence was born in 1904 in North Carolina and lived there all her life, except when she spent four years as a student at Barnard in New York. (She majored in English and was later the first woman in North Carolina to qualify as a landscape architect.) She was a contemporary and long-time friend of the Mississippi novelist Eudora Welty: and it shows. They shared a world, which they saw in a very similar way, and at its best Miss Lawrence’s writing has much of Miss Welty’s unshowy perceptiveness and slightly melancholy grace.

It was Miss Welty who in the 1940s gave her friend the idea for this book, which occupied her intermittently for the next thirty years. It deals with the market bulletins issued by the agricultural departments of most southern states, in which country people advertised jobs wanted or available, and wares of all kinds for sale or exchange. Both women saw these advertisements as voices from, as Miss Lawrence put it, times and customs that are long gone, or that are rapidly passing. I have an idea that if someone sat down and read all of the market bulletins since 1928, he would have a rich sense of the social history of the rural Deep South, through the years of the Great Depression to more recent times: the history of people whose names are now recorded only in family bibles, in the records of county court

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About the contributor

Like Elizabeth Lawrence, Tim Longville can’t bear to be called an expert but likes to be taken seriously. As the years and the roles mount up, though – poet, translator, editor, publisher, copy-writer, journalist, teacher, lecturer, gardener – being called an expert and being taken seriously get to be equally unlikely.

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