When you’re new to gardening—and I still consider myself firmly planted in newbie soil—everything is a revelation. As the various books of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club have rolled out, it has introduced me to topics and authors about which I know nothing. Other garden bloggers, however, post about how a book is one of their favorites or one they’ve always wanted to read—they’re clearly more dug in to the world of gardening literature than I am.
This month’s book, Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence – A Friendship in Letters, edited by Emily Herring Wilson, is one I half-expected to be a little stodgy. But it surprised me from the very start with how much I enjoyed it. First of all, there were these words from Elizabeth Lawrence, which comforted me and my haphazard style of planting: “Far from being an expert, I am the most casual of gardeners…I just put out things and let them take their chances.”
Second of all, I had no idea, when Carol at May Dreams Gardens named this the book of the month, that Katharine S. White was E.B. White’s wife.
Note: I was delighted to learn more about Katharine White’s contribution to The New Yorker and to gardening, as well—I’m not relegating her to the role of wife. But that connection tied me to her more tightly from the start of the book than I might have otherwise expected. See, E.B. White’s novels, particularly The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web, were among my very favorites when I was a kid. If I recall correctly, I enlisted both my Dad and Mom to read them to me, chapter by chapter, even though I could handily read them myself.
So it’s like the transitive property of equality in Geometry. My nostalgia connects me to E.B. White, who is connected to Katharine White by marriage. Therefore, Katharine and I? We’re like old pals.
I was also taken by some of the logistics issues faced by both Katharine White and Elizabeth Lawrence. The two of them constantly spoke about the challenge of keeping up with the correspondence, while assuring each other how much they valued their communication, and they make plans again and again to see each other. Their physical paths cross only once, and Wilson describes that meeting as being “in some way disappointing.” Yet as Katharine’s life came to a close, their correspondence friendship remained as strong as ever.
The book brought to mind all the women who I “know” through the Internet, either who I’ve met through blogging, or through message boards, or through other means. Some of these women, even though I’ve never met them in person, provide me with a strong foundation of friendship and support on any number of issues.
In fact, I have a particular group of women who I consider to be among my closest friends, even though I’ve only met a few of them and may never meet some of them in person. There are people who consider that to be a little strange—how can anyone make a connection solely by computer? I direct them to this book, or to any number of other books of edited letters out on the market and say: how is this any different?
I often feel overwhelmed by my own pile of correspondence, whether that’s the number of emails in my Action folder waiting to be answered (and to those of you who are waiting to hear from me, trust that I haven’t forgotten about you…), or the cards and notes I stick in a folder on my desk labeled “Do This Now-Now-Now” or carry with me in my planner to answer in a stolen moment. Like Katharine and Elizabeth, I’m probably never going to catch up, and I just consider it a wonderful thing that my inbox and mailbox are both overflowing.
Katharine even talks about repetitive stress syndrome at one point. “I have been to the doctor, but he gave me a superficial examination and said it was roughening of the bones and told me not to bend my neck and not to work over a desk,” she writes to Elizabeth. “Great! I simply have to.” It seems that carpal tunnel syndrome and other computer-related issues aren’t the newest things under the sun after all.
Perhaps that’s the best thing about this book, from my reading. Sure, these women traded incredible insights on gardening and plants. But what I walked away with was a reminder of the depth of friendship that is possible even when friends don’t see each other very often, or even at all.