Lacy, Allen 1935- (David Allen Lacy, III)

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Lacy, Allen 1935- (David Allen Lacy, III)


Born January 7, 1935, in Dallas, TX; son of David Allen Lacy, Jr. (a commodities broker) and Jetta (a homemaker) Lacy; married Hella Goethert (a nurse), November 28, 1958; children: Paul David, Michael Loren Bernhard. Ethnicity: "Potpourri." Education: Duke University, A.B., 1956; attended divinity school at Vanderbilt University, 1958; Duke University, Ph.D., 1962. Politics: Democrat.


Home—Linwood, NJ. E-mail—[email protected].


Clemson College, Clemson, SC, instructor in English, 1961-62; James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, assistant professor, 1962-65, associate professor of philosophy and English, 1965-66; Michigan State University, East Lansing, assistant professor of humanities, 1966-68; Kirkland College, Clinton, NY, assistant professor, 1968-69, associate professor of philosophy and humanities, 1969-71; Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, associate professor, 1971-72, professor of philosophy, beginning 1972, now professor emeritus. Member of advisory boards for Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Duke University, 1990-92, and Arboretum, North Carolina State University, 1992-93.


Fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1970; citation for excellence in horticultural writing, American Horticulture Society, 1985; Quill and Trowel Award, Garden Writers Association of America, 1991, for The Garden in Autumn.


Miguel de Unamuno: The Rhetoric of Existence, Mouton (The Hague, Netherlands), 1967.

(Editor and translator, with Martin Nozick and Anthony Kerrigan, and author of introduction) Miguel de Unamuno, Peace in War: A Novel, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1983.

(Editor and translator, with others) Miguel de Unamuno, The Private World, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1984.

Home Ground: A Gardener's Miscellany, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1984.

Farther Afield: A Gardener's Excursions, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1986.

(Editor and author of introduction) Elizabeth Lawrence, Gardening for Love: The Market Bulletins, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1987.

(Editor and author of introduction) The American Gardener: A Sampler, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1988.

The Garden in Autumn, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1990.

(Editor, with Nancy Goodwin) Elizabeth Lawrence, A Rock Garden in the South, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1990.

The Glory of Roses, photographs by Christopher Baker, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1990.

The Gardener's Eye and Other Essays, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Gardening with Groundcovers and Vines, photographs by Cynthia Woodyard, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

The Inviting Garden: Gardening for the Senses, Mind, and Spirit, photographs by Cynthia Woodyard, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

In a Green Shade: Writings from Homeground, drawings by Martha Blake-Adams, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

(With Nancy Goodwin) A Year in Our Garden: Letters by Nancy Goodwin and Allen Lacy, illustrated by Martha Blake-Adams, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 2001.

Gardening columnist for Wall Street Journal, 1979-85, and New York Times, beginning 1986. Contributor of gardening articles, scholarly articles, and book reviews to periodicals, including Christian Scholar, Horticulture, Connoisseur, American Photographer, American Horticulturalist, House and Garden, House Beautiful, Organic Gardening, Harrowsmith, and Hispanic Review. Also former author of the quarterly newsletter Homeground.


If ever a philosopher took literally Voltaire's advice in Candide—that one should tend to one's own garden—that philosopher is Allen Lacy. An expert on Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno and a former professor at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, as well as a lifelong avocational gardener, Lacy became a gardening columnist for the Wall Street Journal by chance in 1979. He remained in that post for six years, moving to the New York Times at the beginning of 1986. Lacy once described his career path to CA: "After paying my scholarly dues, I set out to become a novelist. As an undergraduate at Duke, I was admitted to the legendary writing class taught by the equally legendary William Blackburn, whose students included Mac Hyman, William Styron, Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, and many other novelists of note. I did not become a novelist of note, or even a published one. In 1979 serendipity struck, in the form of an unexpected invitation to initiate a garden column for the Wall Street Journal. It seems that I found my way as a writer in the gardens I had been tending for most of my life, ever since my childhood in Texas."

Lacy's first gardening book was Home Ground: A Gardener's Miscellany, which brought together many of the short pieces he had written for periodicals between 1979 and 1983. Observing that the collection had the "enjoyable crispness" of celery, Allen Paterson in the Times Literary Supplement called Lacy's work "a jolly good write, provocative, robust and knowledgeable." Charles Solomon, reviewing the book in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, noted the "informal, entre nous tone" of this "genial" book, and complimented Lacy for not being "resolutely upbeat."

Farther Afield: A Gardener's Excursions is another collection of short pieces. Describing the volume in the Washington Post Book World, Paul Hodge observed: "What sets Lacy above the common garden-variety journalist is not just his good humor and good sense … but his fascination with the origin of the plants we grow." Hodge singled out a long essay on "the Seed King of Costa Rica"—a renowned Texas-born hybridizer—as "a fascinating study of how modern plant hybrids are born." Hodge also enjoyed reading a chapter on garden theft, stating that "Lacy's delightful, lighthearted rambles are almost always informative and fun to read." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "a source of delight" for readers interested in the subject. In a critique of the book for the New York Times Book Review, Susan Brownmiller described Lacy as being "among that admirable elite who elevate the pleasant pastime of writing personally and with firm opinions about their private gardens into something that approaches literature." Brownmiller expressed a preference for the essays Lacy wrote about his own gardens, rather than those which, in obedience to the title, went farther afield.

In The Garden in Autumn, Lacy provides a unique discussion of gardening in the later months of the year. About the book Lacy noted: "The Garden in Autumn was the first book ever written on this topic, because British gardening books have been influential in the way Americans see their own, very different, gardens. The realities of latitude and climate mean that there is no autumn worth mentioning for English gardens. Here [in the United States], the season is prolonged and given to some of our best weather, the kindest to many plants. There was an obvious hole in our gardening literature. I saw it and leaped in to fill it—but the realization about autumn came to me very suddenly. Seeing the obvious is sometimes very difficult." Gardening and cooking writer Bill Neal, reviewing the book for the New York Times Book Review, cited Lacy for his choice of subject and also noted: "The difference between a good gardener and a great one is the practice of an observant eye." Bloomsbury Review contributor Pat Wagner singled out the book's "beautiful photographs and a wealth of ideas," singling out the amount of "sensible advice" Lacy had managed to include in a book of just over 200 pages.

Another collection of Lacy's essays, The Gardener's Eye and Other Essays, contains pieces on various gardeners—including gardening writer Elizabeth Lawrence—as well as on more traditional gardening topics. A Publishers Weekly critic appreciated that Lacy included philosophical musings on such topics as etymology and architecture within his gardening essays; the reviewer particularly liked the essay "Listening to Miss Lawrence" for illuminating the posthumous author-editor relationship that Lacy had with the late North Carolina gardening writer. Said Lacy, "Duke Press gave me Lawrence's text shortly before she died. The voice I ‘listened’ to was the voice that often came through in that text—which guided me in editing it." In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Charles Solomon wrote that "horticulturists everywhere will enjoy Lacy's delight in his subject."

Lacy's next book examined a specialized topic: Gardening with Groundcovers and Vines. Herein, Lacy staked out new ground by writing that, instead of lawns or other traditional groundcovers, gardeners might use mixtures of plants that are usually placed in borders of gardens. Saying that Lacy "could probably write about sawdust and make it sound delightful," Melanie Fleischmann, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found the chapters on vines "the most fun." Library Journal writer Dale Luchsinger called the book "remarkable" and added that "anyone with a year or two of gardening experience will be able to use this book to enhance his or her knowledge of garden plants." Washington Post Book World reviewer Constance Casey called the book an "elegant and beautifully illustrated long essay."

The Glory of Roses features photographs by Christopher Baker and accompanying text by Lacy. Robert Smaus, garden editor of the Los Angeles Times, noted the "almost universal appeal" of the subject, calling Lacy's text "interesting and amusing" and Baker's photographs "gorgeous." Lacy was also the editor of The American Gardener: A Sampler. The book includes works by about fifty horticultural writers, including Louise Beebe Wilder, Henry Mitchell, Thalassa Cruso, Celestine Sibley, and Harlan J. Hand. A Booklist contributor called Lacy's volume a "delightful anthology," and Library Journal writer Luchsinger observed that in Lacy's collection "readers will discover joys of gardening beyond their initial appreciation of beauty."

In The Inviting Garden: Gardening for the Senses, Mind, and Spirit, with photographs by Cynthia Woodyard, Lacy aims to marry his philosophical training to his love of gardening. He celebrates the pleasures of gardening while providing a history of the pastime and helpful hints. Becoming a gardener was, for him, "like falling in love, something that escapes all logic," he writes, and he hopes the book will make readers fall in love as well. Organic Gardener reviewer Karan Davis Cutler found the effort a success, saying the book "is as irresistible as picking daffodils on a spring day," and a reminder that gardening "is good for the soul." Michael Pollan, writing in the New York Times Book Review, seemed similarly impressed: "When a writer is as deft as Allen Lacy, the connections traced between a cramped yard in southern New Jersey and such far-flung concerns as species extinction, the symbolism of the American front yard, the migration of plants, the act of naming and the rub of seasonal and biographical time in a garden can be thrilling to follow." A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Lacy shows how gardening "engages the mind and touches the spirit," while Booklist contributor Alice Joyce observed that he was able to reveal horticulture's "sensory delights" and "rejuvenating powers." Pollan called Lacy "the dean of American garden writers."

Another collection of his articles, In a Green Shade: Writings from Homeground, features writings originally published in Homeground, Lacy's "quarterly newsletter or mini-magazine," as he described it to CA, made up primarily of "essays on particular plants or the life of a gardener." A Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed the collection an "eloquent and informative book" which offers views of Lacy's garden in addition to horticultural history and iconoclastic opinions. In Booklist, Joyce observed that Lacy provides "stimulating commentary and sterling companionship." A Kirkus Reviews critic summed up the book by saying: "Lacy's garden, like his mind, is a fine mosaic of whimsy and understatement, and a provocation for readers to go forth and cultivate."

More recently Lacy told CA: "It is safe to say that I will probably not write on gardening again. Perhaps I have simply had my say on this topic, which I got into more or less by happenstance. Garden magazines are now mostly photographs, with texts that are mere expanded captions. Gone are the days when a magazine could send me to Costa Rica for two weeks and then allow me 4,000 words to report what I had seen.

"My debts are many. The garden world in America is populated by a host of deeply concerned and intelligent persons who are willing to pass on their great knowledge—writers who share their love for all things green and growing. My list of such persons would take pages to enumerate.

"My current writing interests involve family history."



Bloomsbury Review, April-May, 1991, Pat Wagner, review of The Garden in Autumn, p. 21.

Booklist, April 15, 1988, review of The American Gardener: A Sampler, p. 1380; February 1, 1998, Alice Joyce, review of The Inviting Garden: Gardening for the Senses, Mind, and Spirit, p. 890; March 15, 2000, Alice Joyce, review of In a Green Shade: Writings from Homeground, p. 1308.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2000, review of In a Green Shade, p. 229.

Library Journal, May 15, 1988, Dale Luchsinger, review of The American Gardener, p. 88; November 15, 1993, Dale Luchsinger, review of Gardening with Groundcovers and Vines, p. 92; January, 1998, Dale Luchsinger, review of The Inviting Garden, p. 124; March 15, 2000, Dale Luchsinger, review of In a Green Shade, p. 118.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 14, 1988, review of The American Gardener, p. 2; November 25, 1990, Robert Smaus, review of The Glory of Roses; March 1, 1992, review of Home Ground: A Gardener's Miscellany; July 23, 1995, Charles Solomon, review of The Gardener's Eye and Other Essays, p. 8.

New York Times Book Review, June 1, 1986, Susan Brownmiller, review of Farther Afield: A Gardener's Excursions, p. 30; December 2, 1990, Bill Neal, review of The Garden in Autumn, p. 40; December 15, 1993, Melanie Fleischmann, review of Gardening with Groundcovers and Vines, p. 30; May 31, 1998, Michael Pollan, review of The Inviting Garden, p. 7.

Organic Gardening, March, 1999, Karan Davis Cutler, review of The Inviting Garden, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, March 14, 1986, Penny Kaganoff, review of Farther Afield, p. 99; December 20, 1991, review of The Gardener's Eye and Other Essays, p. 19; March 2, 1998, review of The Inviting Garden, p. 64; March 20, 2000, review of In a Green Shade, p. 86.

Times Literary Supplement, May 3, 1985, Allen Paterson, review of Home Ground, p. 507.

Washington Post Book World, June 6, 1986, Paul Hodge, review of Farther Afield, p. 15; March 8, 1992, review of The Gardener's Eye and Other Essays, p. 13; December 5, 1993, Constance Casey, review of Gardening with Groundcovers and Vines, p. 8.