Lawrence, Elizabeth L.

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LAWRENCE, Elizabeth L.

Born 27 May 1904, Marietta, Georgia; died June 1985

Daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Bradenbaugh Lawrence

One of America's foremost authorities on Southern gardening, Elizabeth L. Lawrence is a graduate of St. Mary's School in Raleigh, North Carolina, and of Barnard College in New YorkCity. She was the only woman in the first landscape architecture class at North Carolina State College, where she earned a B.S. in 1930. Although she is a noted gardener herself, having created gardens in both Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, her major contributions to horticulture are in the area of writing.

Most early American horitcultural writing was concerned with the Northeast. The South had to develop its own garden experts and authorities. In many ways, the South has led the country in historical appreciation of the art of gardening, and Lawrence, its most distinguished writer on modern Southern gardening, is a person of literary ability and cultured background. All of her works are written in a prose style reminiscent of the age of "polite letters." The ease with which she mixes horticultural description and literary or historical associations reveals a depth to her learning comparable to that of the best English garden writers. Lawrence has often given lectures and written articles for magazines and journals. Throughout her life, she has carried on widespread correspondence with gardeners across the United States, particularly in the South. She is the recipient of many awards from horticultural societies.

Probably her most important book for gardeners in the South is A Southern Garden (1942). Reissued with new material in 1967, this book has been widely acclaimed. As its subtitle, A Handbook for the Middle South, suggests, it is about plants that can be grown in what is basically zone eight on the hardiness map. Beginning in winter, it is organized seasonally, and throughout she refers to other gardens as well as her own. There is an appendix of plants listing blooming dates for the South. Gardens of the South (1945) presents the subject of gardening in the South in a 12-lesson guide for women's clubs.

Perhaps her most beloved book, The Little Bulbs: A Tale of Two Gardens (1957), describes the various families of little bulbs (squills, miniature daffodils, crocuses, and such) in the context of the story of bloom in her own North Carolina garden and in that of Carl Krippendorf in Ohio. Many other garden records are cited as well, including an English garden of the years before 1914. Lawrence later wrote Lob's Wood (1971), a short book about Krippendorf and his garden, which after his death was taken over by the Cincinnati Nature Center. While The Little Bulbs is the major handbook on its subject, the fortunate combination of Krippendorf's story and the charm of the little flowers make this much more to readers than a list of species and bloom dates.

The Middle South shares with England the distinction of having the proper climate for the winter garden: just cold enough to make it adventuresome, warm enough to have a variety of broad-leaved evergreens and early-flowering plants tucked away in snug corners. Lawrence's book on this topic, Gardens in Winter (1961), makes the most of this glamorous subject, giving the horticultural details of plant names, bloom times, and landscape uses, along with references to winter gardens in literature and in her correspondence. The book is beautifully illustrated by Caroline Dorman, and Lawrence's training in landscape architecture is particularly evident.

In her introduction to A Southern Garden, Lawrence writes, "One hears a great deal about 'dirt' gardeners. When a gardener has identified himself as the dirt variety he feels a marked superiority. But dirty fingernails are not the only requirement for growing plants. One must be as willing to study as to dig, for a knowledge of plants is acquired as much from books as from experience." In her books, Lawrence has shared the wealth of her knowledge with her readers, not only her "dirt gardening" experience but the results of her study as well. Throughout her books, she cites gardeners and garden writers such as Addison, Bacon, Mrs. Loudon, and Thoreau, giving her reader the sense of belonging to an ancient and distinguished Order of Gardeners.


Herbertia (Yearbook of the American Plant Life Society, 1942, 1943).


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