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One Writer’s Garden

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

Susan Haltom
Jane Roy Brown
Photographs by Langdon Clay
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    One Writer’s Garden
    Book Description:

    By the time she reached her late twenties, Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was launching a distinguished literary career. She was also becoming a capable gardener under the tutelage of her mother, Chestina Welty, who designed their modest garden in Jackson, Mississippi. From the beginning, Eudora wove images of southern flora and gardens into her writing, yet few outside her personal circle knew that the images were drawn directly from her passionate connection to and abiding knowledge of her own garden.

    Near the end of her life, Welty still resided in her parents' house, but the garden-and the friends who remembered it-had all but vanished. When a local garden designer offered to help bring it back, Welty began remembering the flowers that had grown in what she called "my mother's garden." By the time Eudora died, that gardener, Susan Haltom, was leading a historic restoration. When Welty's private papers were released several years after her death, they confirmed that the writer had sought both inspiration and a creative outlet there. This book contains many previously unpublished writings, including literary passages and excerpts from Welty's private correspondence about the garden.

    The authors ofOne Writer's Gardenalso draw connections between Welty's gardening and her writing. They show how the garden echoed the prevailing style of Welty's mother's generation, which in turn mirrored wider trends in American life: Progressive-era optimism, a rising middle class, prosperity, new technology, women's clubs, garden clubs, streetcar suburbs, civic beautification, conservation, plant introductions, and garden writing. The authors illustrate this garden's history--and the broader story of how American gardens evolved in the early twentieth century-with images from contemporary garden literature, seed catalogs, and advertisements, as well as unique historic photographs. Noted landscape photographer Langdon Clay captures the restored garden through the seasons.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-120-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxi)

    “It was my mother who emotionally and imaginatively supported me in my wish to become a writer,” Eudora Welty wrote in her memoir,One Writer’s Beginnings(1984).¹ Her mother, Chestina Andrews Welty, also created the garden at the family home at 1119 Pinehurst Street, in Jackson, Mississippi. For both reasons, it seems fitting to start this story with an event that marked Chestina’s early life and demonstrated her character. For today’s readers it may be hard to imagine the courage she had to summon within herself as a young girl alone on a difficult journey from her native West Virginia...

  6. PART I Spring, 1920s

    • CHAPTER ONE Chestina
      (pp. 3-19)

      In March 1899, in the mountains of central West Virginia, a thirty-seven-year-old man named Ned Andrews writhed under a pile of quilts in a rural farmhouse, pain knifing through his abdomen. The farm was near Maysel, a pin dot on the map forty miles east of Charleston, the state capital.² Ned’s wife and six children clustered around the bed, helpless to relieve his suffering, knowing that if he did not get to a doctor, he would die. The roads down the steep mountainsides were impassable, so a neighbor offered to ferry the afflicted man on a raft across the Elk...

    • CHAPTER TWO “When the Garden Was New”
      (pp. 21-41)

      “The house was on a slight hill (my mother never could see the hill) covered with its original forest pines, on a gravel road then a little out from town,” Welty wrote inOne Writer’s Beginnings. Recalling the early years in the house on Pinehurst Street often prompted her to remember the tall pines that grew on the property before the house was built, and how her father had instructed the architect to preserve the seven mature specimens that enclosed the house site. Even before construction started, she recalled her mother saying that the house would be healthy, because of...

    • CHAPTER THREE Progressive Women and Their Roots in Gardening
      (pp. 43-59)

      The women who flooded into America’s booming cities at the turn of the twentieth century had reason to miss their mothers and sisters back on the farm. At least there, women could work together, or with their husbands and children, as they moved among diverse laborious tasks. In the cities and new suburbs, with limited opportunities for higher education and jobs outside the home, many women felt isolated and socially starved.³ Whether they dug ditches or balanced the books in a large company, men in city jobs left their wives at home during business hours. Although the conventional wisdom holds...

  7. PART II Summer, 1930s

    • CHAPTER FOUR “Meeting Death Head On”
      (pp. 63-73)

      In April 1931, Eudora turned twenty-two. Living in New York City with friends from Jackson and taking business courses at Columbia University, she planned to seek work in the city after finishing school. Her optimism about finding employment seems surprising in hindsight, given that New York City was the epicenter of the stock market crash; but at the time, many economists had yet to recognize how severe and lasting the shock waves would be. After all, two recessions had rattled the country since the turn of the century—the brief Panic of 1907–1908 and a longer postwar slump in...

    • CHAPTER FIVE “Medicine to the Soul”
      (pp. 75-99)

      In 1933, the Belhaven Garden Club reported, “Mrs. Welty offered to take care of all yearbooks and books on flower growing belonging to the club.” Chestina had reentered the club activities that had sustained her before her husband’s death. She would be elected president in 1936 and again in 1946. Curious, hard-working, experienced, willing to give programs, accepting of leadership positions, Chestina would appear to have been a model garden club member; but she would brook no foolishness. Eudora said that her mother once quit a club because the members began to spend their time “drinking tea and eating strawberry...

    • CHAPTER SIX “You and Me, Here”
      (pp. 101-119)

      When other parts of America dropped into the Great Depression, Mississippi had so little industry, and its sharecropping tenant farmers had been mired in poverty for so long, that most of the rural population didn’t have far to fall. As a result, it took longer for the Depression to take hold in a noticeable way. As Eudora observed, “[P]overty in Mississippi—white and black—really didn’t have too much to do with the Depression. It was ongoing. Mississippi was long since poor, long devastated.”²

      Four years later, however, the state’s scant fifty-two thousand industrial jobs had dropped to twenty-eight thousand....

  8. PART III Fall, 1940s

    • CHAPTER SEVEN “The Subject Was Flowers”
      (pp. 123-137)

      In 1929, when Welty was preparing to graduate from the University of Wisconsin and her mother was busy with the new Garden Lovers group in Jackson, a twenty-seven-year-old engineer named Diarmuid Russell emigrated from Ireland to America. He found a job in his field in Schenectady, New York, but neither the place nor the work suited him. He left his job in the depths of the Depression and wandered to Chicago, where he worked in a bookstore, fell in love, and married. He and his wife, Rose, moved to New York, and in 1935, he landed a job with a...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT “In the Fall I Will Miss You Then”
      (pp. 139-153)

      The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Welty wrote to Russell, “now the teeth-grit of war is to begin.”² Like other Americans, she felt deep anxiety about the safety and well-being of her loved ones. In January 1942, her gloom about the war interrupted even her cherished winter ritual of perusing seed catalogues. “[T]hings seem so grave and desperate sometimes that you find yourself deliberating over what plants you can have or can’t as if the weight of the world were in that too—this isn’t right, we should have them all, some things are better than any weight,”...

    • CHAPTER NINE “Flowers Are Older Than War”
      (pp. 155-171)

      Eudora Welty, reporting on the signs of spring in a 1942 letter to Russell, mentioned “the sassafras man … who comes in boots and cap, looking like a general this time of year with the gold roots strung on him, in bunches all up and down and across him, and on his shoulders like epaulettes…. He ties the roots in bundles with little strips of old inner-tubes, but when my brother bought some this year he got it untied and handed to him loose, because the sassafras man said he had to save tires.”²

      All Americans endured some degree of...

    • CHAPTER TEN “Happy and Thankful for Much”
      (pp. 173-191)

      After spending the summer of 1944 in New York, Welty arrived home at night and checked on the camellias by match-light, finding ‘Leila’ to have grown prodigiously during her absence. “The apple blossom sasanquas [Camellia sasanqua] that smell like the earth were blooming,” she told Robinson, as she prepared to leaf through the back issues of theMarket Bulletinin search of “the hyacinthus ladies.”² But the joy of being back home evaporated when she learned that he had chosen to go on the night raids over Italy, moved by conscience to share the risk he was assigning to younger...

  9. PART IV Winter, Postwar and Beyond

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN “Not a Garden Any More, but What It Is”
      (pp. 195-211)

      The 1950s, when Welty began to stretch her wings, were heady years for Americans. Fifty years earlier, Chestina and Christian Welty had marveled at the inventions at the St. Louis World’s Fair before striking out to build a new life far from their hometowns. Their embrace of change, and Christian’s belief that technology would bring about a better future, marked them as typical of their generation. A similar upwelling of change and hope, also accompanied by a belief in progress through technology, buoyed the country at midcentury. With the war over, America tapped years of pent-up energy, a reservoir of...

  10. EPILOGUE: “It Would Be Like Hell to Do”
    (pp. 213-234)

    During the 1980s Eudora Welty gave her home to the state of Mississippi, to be administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). She would continue to live there for the rest of her life, and after her passing it would become a literary house museum. She was a longtime friend to MDAH—indeed, former director Charlotte Capers was one of her closest friends and had facilitated the first of many gifts of Welty’s papers. In a 1987 interview with Welty, Capers asked about the objects in the house as a record for the future. Between their dry...

  11. Appendices

      (pp. 235-236)
      (pp. 237-237)
      (pp. 238-239)
      (pp. 240-241)
      (pp. 242-243)
      (pp. 244-244)
      (pp. 245-245)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 246-255)
    (pp. 256-260)
    (pp. 261-261)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 262-272)