One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place

Image of One Writer's Garden: Eudora Welty's Home Place
Release Date: 
October 18, 2011
Publisher/Imprint: 
University Press of Mississippi
Pages: 
272
Reviewed by: 

“One Writer’s Garden is a handsome, durable book. If a reader has interest in gardens and also American literature, it will prove nearly irresistible. With the story of a restoration of a famous garden, its connection to literature and history, and its outstanding color photography, One Writer’s Garden deserves that place on the table near readers who gather to read and sip.”

One Writer’s Garden is a rare and worthy book. Its main subject is Eudora Welty’s garden, the garden she inherited from her mother, Chestina.

Two structures carry the book. The first is the life, decay, and restoration of the famous garden; and the second is seasonal change. One might even make a case that there is a third structure: the history of Welty’s garden and American gardens, especially southern gardens.

The Welty garden, as an example of garden trends from 1925 to 1945, shows changes in America like the increase of optimism based on new technology, changes in society that established women’s roles out of the kitchen and into the garden and the world, especially through garden clubs, book clubs, beautification projects in cities and beyond to suburbs, issues of conservation and even garden writing, all important historical trends.

One Writer’s Garden is much more than a coffee table garden book. For bookstores, the book is classified in Gardening and American Literature sections, but the book might please readers who are interested in biography and American history. Touching, if not covering, so many subjects in one book might lead one to believe that the authors Ms. Haltom and Ms. Brown are dabbling, but One Writer’s Garden is not a jack of all trades production.

The authors have determined their main focus and how other subjects are related to it. For instance, while the book notes Welty’s use of garden and flowers in her short stories, the authors stop there. They make the limited extent of their literary exploration clear.

“While we do assert connections between the garden experience and the images and scenes that appear in her fiction, we deliberately stop short of interpreting those images and scenes from the standpoint of literary analysis. Focus is on this garden and the two women who tended it, we explored the local and regional context first, and if trends exhibited in the garden extended beyond that, we touched upon them.”

A point of interest is that co-authors, Ms. Haltom and Ms. Brown live far from each other. Ms. Haltom worked hands in the dirt in the restoration of the Welty garden while Ms. Brown traveled as a landscape historian and was deep in research at home in Massachusetts. Working with such distance involves an interesting division of labor, depending on each writer’s skills, preference, and proximity to the needed resources.

Their working relationships grew successfully as the book was written. Ms. Haltom is primarily concerned with the soil, plants, and care; Ms. Brown focuses on the societal and historical elements of the Welty garden, the gardens of the South, and even the national trends in gardening during the relevant years.

Pages without photographs are rare. Many are historic; and many are of Eudora, a tall lean woman, and her friends. The flora photographs are in color. Noted landscape photographer, Langdon Clay’s work on the restored garden through the seasons is rich with composed-by-nature brilliance. Mr. Clay captures the nature well. Since she is on the restoration scene, Ms. Haltom photographed the flora in color and some of the other restorations in black and white.

The book’s back matter is lengthy, precise, and well organized. There are seven helpful appendices ranging from plant lists to discussion questions for book clubs. Chapter notes and a complete bibliography, credits, and a comprehensive index make the book complete.

One Writer’s Garden is a handsome, durable book. If a reader has interest in gardens and also American literature, it will prove nearly irresistible. With the story of a restoration of a famous garden, its connection to literature and history, and its outstanding color photography, One Writer’s Garden deserves that place on the table near readers who gather to read and sip.