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the writer's garden - The Mount


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the writer’s garden

Some of our favorite women authors worked the soil as well as the page.

Their gardens—now open to the public—reveal nearly as much about their

creators’ personalities and literary pursuits as any biography. These five gardens

still impart a sense of the daily lives and inspirations of the women who

nurtured them . . . including one with a penchant for weeding in the nude.

FRom leFT: langDon Clay; CouRTesy oF euDoRa WelTy ColleCTion—mississippi DepaRTmenT oF aRChives anD hisToRy

rose fever The climbing

pale-pink rose ‘Dr. W. van

Fleet’ grows on the Colonial

Revival–style arbor that

separates the upper and lower

gardens. Welty, above right,

stands under the same arbor,

probably circa 1930.

Eudora Welty

the southern traditionalist

For 76 years, the celebrated short-story

writer and novelist Eudora Welty lived in

her family’s Jackson, Mississippi, home.

Like many genteel Southern women, she

learned to garden from her mother

(“rising at dawn, moving along behind her

in the borders”). Her garden is divided into

outdoor rooms and planted with what

her mother called “a parade of bloom.”

Lush, heady-scented roses climb on

arbors and trellises, while a variety of

annuals and perennials—including irises,

day lilies, and larkspurs—grow in borders.

And then there are the camellias: close

to 30 different varieties, in shades of red,

pink, and white. Welty’s bedroom overlooked

Camellia japonica ‘Lady Clare,’ and

she so loved them that her mother overnighted

blossoms to her (by train) when

she was away from home. “Yes, there is

danger that I will pour all my riches into

camellias,” she wrote to a friend. Be

sure to pick up One Writer’s Garden:

Eudora Welty’s Home Place, by Susan

Haltom and Jane Roy Brown (University

Press of Mississippi, 2011), which provides

a detailed history of Welty’s garden,

from planting to restoration.

WRITTEN BY Melissa Ozawa

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GatherinG flowers

Spencer, above, in her garden,

right, which the poet Sterling

Brown described as “colorful

living in a world grown dull.”

Anne Spencer

the cottaGe Gardener The poet

Anne Spencer, who was a contemporary

of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale

Hurston, spent most of her life in Lynchburg,

Virginia, where her home frequently

provided a welcoming haven for fellow

African American intellectuals. (During

the first half of the 20th century, segregation

laws banned them from hotels.)

The garden is planted in the cottage

style, with loose, informal beds of bulbs

and roses, and includes a circular pond

and a robin’s-egg-blue pergola and arbor

with climbing wisteria and Concord

and Niagara grapes. The pink ‘Grégoire

Madame Staechelin’ rose continues

to bloom more than 75 years after she

planted it. “Peace is here and in every

season,” Spencer wrote, “a quiet beauty.”

Lessons Learned From a Poet’s Garden,

by Jane Baber White (Blackwell Press,

2011), includes previously unpublished

poems by Spencer and details the

garden’s restoration.

plant communities

Lawrence, above right,

welcoming a visitor. Thanks

to dedicated volunteers

and groups like the Garden

Conservancy, which provided

preservation resources to

many of these places, her

gardens, above, have been

restored and are open today.

Elizabeth Lawrence

the plantswoman “This is the

gate of my garden. I invite you to enter

in,” Elizabeth Lawrence wrote. The

Charlotte, North Carolina, garden was

organized around a center pool, with

paths threading through the small plot.

Though a mere third of an acre, it was

enough to provide the garden writer

with a living laboratory where she could

test, study, enjoy, and—above all—

describe in keen detail even the smallest

horticultural wonders for the devoted

readers of the gardening column she

wrote for the Charlotte Observer from

1957 to 1971. She also published four

books on gardening, and through letters

developed a community of fellow gardeners

(including Eudora Welty) with whom

she corresponded frequently, sharing tips,

advice, and recommendations—and,

better yet, often swapping seeds and cuttings.

Start by reading a compilation of

her Charlotte Observer pieces, collected

in Through the Garden Gate (University

of North Carolina Press, 1990).

CloCkWise FRom Top leFT: JeFF CRavoTTa; CouRTesy oF The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER; CouRTesy oF The anne spenCeR FounDaTion; Jimmie Ray

CloCkWise FRom Top leFT: J. peTeR beRgman; beTTmann/CoRbis; elizabeTh sTone, CouRTesy oF The mounT; lebReChT auThoRs/lebReChT musiC & aRTs/CoRbis



form and structure

Wharton, above, designed the

formal walled garden, right,

which has a stone fountain.



Open Tuesday through Friday;

reservations recommended

1109 Pinehurst Street,

Jackson, MS 39202

Edith Wharton

the Grand dame “I was amazed

at the success of my efforts,” Edith

Wharton wrote of her estate’s garden in

the Berkshires. “Decidedly, I’m a better

landscape gardener than novelist, and

this place . . . far surpasses The House

of Mirth.” The esteemed writer, a fixture

of New York society, designed and built

the Mount and its gardens at the turn of

the 20th century in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Influenced by the landscapes and architecture

she’d seen on frequent European

sojourns, she created three acres of

formal gardens, with rooms that emphasized

“marble, water, and perennial

verdure” as much as ephemeral flowers.

A garden, she believed, should have

“ a charm independent of the seasons.”

After reading Italian Villas and Their

Gardens (Da Capo, 1976), you’ll see her

vision with new eyes.



Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays,

and Saturdays

248 Ridgewood Avenue,

Charlotte, NC 28209



Open every day

1313 Pierce Street,

Lynchburg, VA 24501

into the woods

A view of Steepletop in

summer, above, abloom in

day lilies and phlox. The

poet, above right, beneath a

flowering magnolia tree.

edna st. vincent


Open May through October

436 East Hill Road,

Austerlitz, NY 12017

Edna St. Vincent


the free spirit It wasn’t unusual

for Edna St. Vincent Millay to host bacchanalian

parties at her bucolic Steepletop

estate in Austerlitz, New York. When

she moved there in 1925, she was already

a celebrity, having won the Pulitzer

Prize for poetry two years prior, and was

known for her wild ways. “My candle

burns at both ends,” she famously wrote.

She created a series of outdoor rooms

at the 700-acre farm: a peony circle garden;

a spring-fed pool with a nearby

outdoor bar, where she hosted many fêtes

(and forbade bathing suits); and plots

for wildflowers and vegetables, where

she weeded in the nude. While the garden

was an escape, it also provided inspiration.

Millay built a writing shack in a

pine grove she planted (inspired by her

childhood in Maine), where she worked

for hours each day. Pack an edition of

Millay’s poems to read beneath the pines.



Open May through October

2 Plunkett Street,

Lenox, MA 01240

108 | maRThasTeWaRT.Com

maRThasTeWaRT.Com | 109

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