Gardening from the couch: Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence
Elizabeth Lawrence was the first woman to graduate from the landscape design program at what is now North Carolina State University and, in the early 1930s, was struggling to make a career for herself in Raleigh, where there was little work for a woman landscape designer.
Meanwhile, Ann Preston Bridgers, a Raleigh native, had become a Broadway sensation, writing Coquette with George Abbott and starring Helen Hayes. It became Mary Pickford's first talking movie in 1929.Bridges was a great nurturer of young writing talent and she struck up a friendship and correspondence with Lawrence, encouraging her write about her love of plants and gardening for newspapers and women's magazines and to put that writing into a book.
The book became A Southern Garden and it is still considered a classic.
Elizabeth Lawrence, who died in Annapolis in 1984 where she had gone to live with a niece, was ranked by Horticulture magazine in 2004 as one of the 25 greatest gardeners in the world, acclaim that might not have been visited upon her if she had never met Ann Preston Bridgers.
Emily Herring Wilson, who wrote a highly regarded biography of Elizabeth Lawrence called No One Gardens Alone, has collected Elizabeth's letters to Ann in a new book: Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence.
The letters (discovered in Ann Bridgers' bequest to Duke University) do not include Ann's responses, but they reveal much about Elizabeth's devotion to her family and to her accumulation of gardening knowledge and about how Ann encouraged her.
Truly, she might not have become Elizabeth Lawrence were it not for Ann Preston Bridgers.
Elizabeth Lawrence is buried in St. James' Episocopal Church in Lothian, a country church she had always loved.
I have four copies of Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence, and I would be delighted to share them with four randomly selected readers who post a comment here. Please include your email address so I can contact you.