Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Friday, January 9, 2009

The first flower came before the leaves resting as lightly as butterflies...

on their short stiff stems, looking as if they had settled but for a moment between flights." (The Little Bulbs Elizabeth Lawrence, May 27, 1904~1985)

How could one escape being charmed by Elizabeth Lawrence. Just open any of her books and you will be instantly engaged in her world.....and feel it's your own. She wrote well over 60 years ago, but when I picked up A Southern Garden in 1986...she spoke directly to me. Before long her voice, even a bit of her philosophy were internalized. She was my first garden mentor and like many of our firsts...they remain forever a part of us.


I have been reading her book The Little Bulbs again...It's winter and this is what I love to do; read and dream about gardening in the spring. I mentioned Elizabeth Lawrence over at Victoria's and when she asked for a recommendation, there was no hesitation... I suggested The Little Bulbs and A Southern Garden. Both are books I treasure.

Elizabeth Lawrence has been on my mind a lot.



Because of her I tried squills and chionodoxas; some of the sweetest little daffodils a gardener could want and day lilies. I fell for colchicums and invited cyclamens to live here forever. I learned that tulips weren't just Dutch beauties; that there were species tulips that came from mountainous areas in the Middle East. No wonder they thrived our dry summers and wet winters when planted in just the right spots.



She taught me the first of my Latin names and that Latin was descriptive. Words like: macranthus, large flowered; repans, creeping; saxatalis, found among rocks. I also learned a way of thinking about plants and flowers that is still with me today. When she spoke of searching for a bulb for over twenty years...I knew gardening could be a life long passion.

You can see, she's been on my mind a lot.

What's been on yours?

Gail

From Ms Lawrence~~"In our climate I have leaned to be wary of plants whose cultural conditions include the familiar words: "needs moisture at all times, but must be well drained."

75 comments:

  1. Aahhh more good reading to add to my list.

    As you probably have read on my blog I have been thinking about the crocus in my garden. AND I have been thinking about all the bulbs I wanted to plant and didn't get around to planting. It seems that by the time fall rolls around I am out of gas for planting. Hmmm I obviously need a mental overhaul to get some bulbs planted before I shut down for the season.

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  2. Good morning Gail, thank you. I have her Southern book and have never read it. I have lots of gardening books like that, ordering them, looking at the pictures then forgetting about them as I look out the window and see something that I simply must do right that minute, then forget about the books. Less blogging more reading perhaps?

    Frances

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  3. Such a sweet tribute to your very first garden mentor. How very wonderful. I have never read her either and only heard of her through you. I will definitely look for her book! Have a super great day today-supposed to be warm but a bit of rain.

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  4. It's nice to go back sometimes and re-read the books that inspired you! Nice pictures. What's on my mind: Spring. I'm not prepared for it yet in the seed and plant areas but I'm ready for it mentally!

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  5. It's wonderful that your first garden mentor was someone who inspired you to try new things & explore unknown avenues in the garden. Thanks for the book info, I will have to check those out. :)

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  6. Good morning Gail! I haven't read Elizabeth Lawrence, but I can see from the quote how appealing her writing style must be. Combined with her gardening passion and botanical knowledge I can see how inspiring she must be, especially for a southern gardener.

    Paint's been on my mind lately (and in my hair, and under my fingernails :)

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  7. Hi Gail - Cyclamen are lovely aren't they?

    What's on my mind? The fact that the weather's been so cold, for so long that my bargain compost is frozen, so I still can't plant up my tulips in their lovely, shiny pots :(

    I'm itching to get gardening again!

    It's set to get milder over the weekend, so fingers crossed I finally can get going again.

    Have a great weekend, dear Gail.

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  8. Lisa,

    It's good reading Lisa and January is the best time for a lot of us to rest and dream about our crocus! I run out of gas in December and need January off...even if our zone allows us to garden on those nice cool days ...I want to read. That's how I found blogging and all of you wonderful people!

    Gail

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  9. Frances,

    It's good reading and I find it very soothing and stimulating at the same time. I read for a while, look at the photos and then get impatient to rush to the nursery! So this time of year I still haunt the nurseries! Btw, I stopped by a big box store and they had a few azaleas but none of the deciduous type;(
    Have you had any luck with the hardier gardenias?

    Gail

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  10. tina,

    She's a great read and very knowledgeable; you will admire her for that, too. I was hoping for good weather all day...we have workman here all morning and this afternoon is free! Sighing, cause I have bulbs to go in the ground! Did you get all yours in?

    Gail

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  11. I feel the same way about her Gail. Have you visited her garden in Charlotte? I want to do that. Like you, I reread her books, especially during the winter.

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  12. Gail,

    Lovely way to present your garden inspiration.

    What's on my mind? Right now, a migraine so I can't think straight.

    Later,
    Cameron

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  13. What's been on my mind is that I don't get out and ENJOY our beautiful winters as much as I should. And time passes much too quickly. :) Your garden dreaming is delightful.

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  14. Dave,

    Spring...I so want it to be here, too. You need a few days of great weather and I bet you catch up! In my garden, the grasses need cutting and The Susans are a mess!
    gail

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  15. Gail,
    I've heard so much from Phillip, about 'A Southern Garden', but I have yet to read it. I really need to get it. What is the plant in the bottom left corner of the third picture?--Randy

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  16. Dear Gail......what a beautiful post.....always, for me, so thought provoking.....

    My favourite english gardener is Christopher Lloyd.....he died last year......I have so many of his books and still watch programmes about him and his lovely garden at Dixter.....
    I love his colour combinations......and still dream that one day I will wake up and my garden will have that wonderful haze ....just like the garden at Dixter.......

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  17. She has a lovely, poetic style in her writing. I haven't read her books because I'm afraid they won't pertain to a northern garden;)
    Marnie

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  18. Marnie,

    She's a good read and many of the little bulbs would make it in your zone 5 garden...She was zone 8 when she began writing and there were plants I couldn't grow. How I wished I could, but, instead she became a way for me to get educated....She fundamentally believed that if any gardener wanted to use a non native plant; that is was there responsibility to know as much as possible about them...growing conditions, everything! She was lyrical and poetic in her writing but underneath it all a botanist!

    Gail

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  19. You have convinced me (along with Carol's many references) that I should read one of Elizabeth Lawrence's books.

    As for what I've been thinking about, I've been trying to keep my mind off gardening since spring seems so far away right now. Indoor projects are on my to-do list so that when it's warm, nothing can stop me from going outside!

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  20. "needs moisture at all times, but must be well drained."

    Gail, I've been slowly rereading A Southern Garden and hit those very words yesterday. Someone must live in a place where those conditions exist, but not us!

    I didn't buy A Southern Garden until we moved to Texas, but enjoyed Through the Garden Gate when we lived in northern Illinois.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  21. Cheryl,

    He was indeed a wonderful gardener! Before I embraced my clay and limestone garden I dearly wanted an English garden! Not to be, but the books, the photographs and the writing are all worth the time. The Long Border is magnificent...I just had to go peak at it again! I love the internet!

    Thank you...what a sweet compliment it is to know you touch others...

    Gail

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  22. Annie,

    Isn't that the truth! I have no idea where that might be...maybe parts of England. But they are certainly those places which capture our dreams.

    Isn't she a lovely writer? You are so smart to read it slowly!

    Gail

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  23. Rose,

    What a difference several hundred miles makes...we have decent enough weather...if you bundle up we can plant the last bulbs or even a shrub or two! No frozen ground yet. But when it rains and I just have to move around I do get a lot of cleaning done!

    I do think you will appreciate her writing style very much. She didn't get stringy like the bean! Be prepared her garden was in a much warmer zone.

    Gail

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  24. Randy,

    Do...you will be able to grow most everything she talks about! Plus her writing is a delight.

    It's Sedum...Matrona a gift from Frances of fairegarden! The other plant is Heuchera villosa Autumn Bride...another plant you must get...a heuchera to survive our heat and humidity.

    Gail

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  25. nancy,

    I was thinking much the same...I am sitting at this keyboard and my bottom is growing to the chair and getting too wide at the same time! Out to walk in our lovely neighborhood.

    What will you do to enjoy your winter? Cross country ski? Hiking in the parks?
    Gail

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  26. Cameron,

    So sorry dear..have a good lie down and see you later!

    Gail

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  27. Gail, so many of you have recommended her that I am just going tohave to read her. Like Cheryl, I loved Lloyd and his gardens. But realized I could never have his 'English Garden'. Maybe reading Lawrence will inspire a midwest garden.

    Thinking about-not much these days. Glad the holidays are over, but have little energy for much else. I guess I am resting up for spring. Either that or just being lazy!

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  28. Phillip,

    No I haven't but I do want to see it! I wish that the Raleigh Garden had been preserved...I cannot imagine how wrenching it must have been for her to leave. Each time i read her books...there is something that jumps off the page...I find myself saying...."I remember reading this, how come I didn't try them?" How about you...do you find new plants at each reading?

    gail

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  29. Dear VP,

    Frozen compost! Yikes...I was reading your post and got sidetracked when I decided to read about my communities efforts to compost etc. So I will be by to comment today! Your posts are very inspiring to me.

    Gail

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  30. Gardengirl,

    Linda your cobweb clearing has been on my mind...it's time to do that here. This morning we had a repairmen and I was noticing the need to paint and a few other tasks that are requiring my attention!

    The other garden books I find to be interesting reads are Sara Stein's books: Noah's Garden and Planting Noah's Garden.

    I am glad you're back and posting...btw, loved your post today!

    Gail

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  31. Racquel,

    I stumbled upon her a nursery (it's gone) The shop owner, an extraordinary landscape designer, suggested it and since then I have made a point of getting a copy of everything she wrote! I hope you read her and that you find her a delightful read.

    gail

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  32. Hi Gail - I'm looking for a literary garden mentor so this recommendation is so appreciated. I haven't really thought about Garden writing as a genre too much, but I really enjoy cooking and food writing (MFK Fisher, Peter Mayle, Ruth Reichl) so why shouldn't it be that way with plants too?

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  33. beckie,

    I don't know if she will inspire a Midwest Garden...but she is a great read. If you like the style of her writing.

    What's your favorite midwest garden designer? I want to send my Illinois living sister a book and I googled and found Patricia Hill...Design Your Natural Midwest Garden. Is she any good?

    I want to rest up now, I think the holidays were tiring....and January is a perfect time to rest up, read and dream! Also the catalogs are fun to peruse!

    I hope you have a pleasant weekend.

    Gail

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  34. JGH,

    I bought the Ruth Reichl book but it appears my husband ran off with it! Must find it and read it now!
    Peter Mayle is a fun read and his fiction makes me laugh, too. I have been completely immersed in gardening and blogging and I want to get back into the kitchen...we can help each other here!

    Gail

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  35. Hi Gail - Those books make the perfect companion for winter weather reading. I have been trying to motivate myself back into the blogging world but it has been slow for me. I guess I just need a little more of a break. Of course, trying to stay warm with all this white stuff around has me not even thinking about the garden :)
    Have a good weekend, my friend :)

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  36. Hi Cindy,

    I've been looking for your posts...when ever you post we will all be there! Really, the holidays can take 'it' out of one! Play with Lillian, get some more rest, skake your fist at the snow and the cold weather then you'll be ready to come back! I hope you have a sweet weekend.

    Gail

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  37. Hi Gail,
    What am I thinking now?
    Cirsium rivulare
    This is interesting as you were mentioning Latin names, and rivulare means by a river (or brook)
    Right before I looked at your post (your blog is always a treat to look at when I have a minute) I was looking online for this. This red thistle has tall stems and looks wonderful in a meadow. You can find it all over nurseries in the UK, but I have not found a source in the US. (Plant imports is another long story, let’s just say it's a bother)
    So, no Cirsium rivulae, but I enjoyed visiting Clay and Limestone
    :)
    Philip

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  38. I did not mean to rattle on about elusive plants! I wanted to say you have prompted me to get this book. It looks wonderful.
    Philip

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  39. 'Needs moisture at all times but must be well-drained". Now I know for sure that Elizabeth Lawrence must have been an incredibly intelligent woman. I avoid those plants too. Where does one find those conditions? In a gravel pit, maybe. Certainly not in my garden here in London. Thanks for the mention, Gail, it was very sweet of you!
    Best wishes, Victoria

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  40. Phillip,

    I do think that you can and might grow many of the plants she describes for her zone 8 garden. Not sure what sunset zone is equivalent~~Thank you! I am touched that you like to stop by here! I love your posts, too! Your search for the elusive Cirsium rivulae makes you very like Elizabeth Lawrence in your willingness to find your plant!

    Gail

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  41. Victoria,

    I have no idea where that might be located either! BUt I have run across some plants that had those exact requirements! It was my pleasure to link to your blog!

    gail

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  42. Gail, Have you recommended her before? I know I read about her somewhere last Winter! She must have been a very thoughtful gardener/author. :-) It's wonderful to hear how you were influenced by her.

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  43. Good morning dear Gail,
    I JUST received my first copy of A Southern Garden in the mail this week. A Christmas present to myself. :-) It may have been you that first recommended it a while back. Hopefully it won't be one that sits on the shelf because I blog about gardening instead of reading in my spare time.

    Honestly, I've never read gardening books. It has only been since I started my vegetable garden that I've picked up a couple of them. In Florida, we don't have much time to dream or ponder about gardening because we are gardening so much of the time.

    The book I am picking up at every spare moment these days however is "Great Garden Companions" By Sally Cunningham. It's capturing my heart with her concept of companion planting systems. Most of her info is not for my area but the methodology is fascinating and adaptable.

    Loved your gentle voice in this post. You are going to be so prepared for spring once it rolls around the corner sooner than it seems at the moment.
    Have a great Saturday!

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  44. Shady,

    I gardened all by myself...we had a little boy and most of our friends weren't gardeners (if you can imagine that!). I had to get my mentoring from somewhere and her book came at the right time! I wish her gardens were more applicable to you...although she is a good read. Who do you read?

    Gail

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  45. Dear Meems,

    However you found Elizabeth Lawrence I hope she brings you a smile or two! She is a woman of her times...living with her mother, moving to live next to her sister, but not! Please let me know what you think when you get into it!

    I can't imagine gardening as you garden...I fear this girl is too lazy! My brain and body automatically shifts to 'chill out' mode January 2! That's the time to peruse the online catalogs for dream plants!

    I will have to look for Sally's book....how to combine plants is a skill I wouldn't mind learning. I am thinking seriously of getting Plant Driven Designs by the Ogdens....it looks like the gardens are in TX but it's my understanding that the text is applicable to most gardens.

    Have a delightful weekend and happy reading.

    Gail

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  46. Why don't I have any of Elizabeth Lawrence's books? I love that she gave you the gardening 'bug'. I am actually thinking about a new garden space up towards the veggie garden. Should it be the 'Garden of Death' or 'Wicked Plants' as Amy Stewart would say or should it be the blue and white garden? Maybe a white garden. Maybe hot colors...maybe a trial garden. Must do a post and have all weigh in. EL is now 'on the list'.

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  47. I have several of EL's books and have reread them several times. I recall her crqwling around under the bushes looking for a remembered plant...I can identify.

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  48. Hi Gail. I'm a newbie to this site. Your pictures and prose are delightful. I love the picture of the Tennessee Coneflower. I purchased two plants last summer and was very impressed.

    Marjorie Fish is another of the garden greats. Forgive me if you're already aware of her...She was English and gardened during the early 20th century. She had a great wit as well as wisdom. She often butted heads with her equally opinionated husband--in a dignified way of course.

    Congrats on your award!

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  49. i love this post, it is so nice to see a bloom of the colour right now. i thought meems description was right on,
    "Loved your gentle voice in this post"
    i will have to check out this e.lawrence.

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  50. Gail .. you are so lucky to see such a pretty flower right now.
    My first garden book love was Larry Hodgson's "Perennials for Every Purpose" .. then "Perennial All Stars" by Jeff Cox .. I have seen some recommendations from Jodie now and I'd love to have those books .. but with light values changing so much in my back garden , I'm looking for Larry's "Making the Most of Shade:How to Plan,Plant, and Grow a Fabulous Garden that Lightens the Shadows" .. now how is that for a mouth full ? .. a girl can dream can't she ? He is Canadian and gardens in Quebec, but I know he knows Ontario too .. so that is a bonus : )

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  51. Hi Gail,
    I've been thinking about reading more as well as figuring out what I'll buy for the garden in the spring, BEFORE I get to the nursery. I made a good faith effort at the latter but just spent too much time blogging to do any reading. :-) Your reading recommendation sounds great, so I'm going to look for it.
    Jean

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  52. Hi Jean,

    I think you might like E Lawrence...she has lovely prose.

    I try, I really do to be prepared before I go to the nurseries...sometimes I get everything on my list, but often there is that plant that just tempts me! That's how I brought home two plants last year that are keepers...Iris cristata 'Tennesee White' and Star Grass Hypoxis hirsuta (a member of the daffodil family). Sometimes we just have to stray from the list!

    Gail

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  53. layanee,

    I hope you like her writing!

    Hmm...you should put up the choices and see what folks choose...we just may pick something like the 'Wicked Garden'.. we would all be caught proclaiming...Layanee's garden is wicked bold! A bad RI joke I know!

    gail

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  54. Donna,

    She was also fond of lying on the ground to look up through the limbs to see the sky! She must have been an interesting combination of gentile southern 'lady' and bold tomboy!

    Gail

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  55. Joy,

    Isn't that exactly what happens..our gardens age and they become shadier. I have a lot of trees and shade is the thing I always deal with...when you find an author who knows the growing conditions and climate you have to read them! My to book for plants native to cedar glade areas is a book by a local botanist. It is out of print and if I lost it I would be lost! Let's not think about that!

    Gail

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  56. Marmee,

    Hi! Yes, I loved it too, but forgot to thank her for it! She is very good! I think you might like Elizabeth Lawrence...such an interesting woman and boy did she know plants.

    Gail

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  57. Grace,

    The Tennessee Coneflower is dear to my heart...they do require full sun but then you get to see them follow the sun all day long! I haven't heard of Ms Fisher and will google her right after I hit publish. Btw, I am so lade you stopped by to visit c&l!.

    Gail

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  58. Great stuff and lovely post, Gail. Garden mentors rule and Elizabeth Lawrence sounds perfect. I'm guided by many each time I step into the garden. On my mind? The world is filled with treasures ~ I want to read everything (so many to choose from ... gardening, photography, cooking, writing, etc.), catch magic moments with my camera, prepare gifts of food for loved ones, plan my perfect garden, hold loved ones tenderly, but most importantly, focus on the gift of the moment. Tall order as each year seems to fly by :)

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  59. Gail,
    What a wonderful conversation you've inspired!

    I've enjoyed Elizabeth Lawrence's writings, and need to reacquaint myself with them. Her former garden in Charlotte is being conserved by Wing Haven, and should be interesting to visit in the future.

    The 'little bulbs' are starting to make an appearance here, with emerging leaves, and the first Galanthus flowers in some older plantings down the road.

    Cheers,
    Lisa

    P.S. Iris cristata and Hypoxis hirsuta would have leaped into my basket, too!

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  60. Joey,

    Many wonderful thoughts on your mind! Time does she to move faster after a certain point! Being with loved ones and friends and embracing a good life is perfect! Your life and your thoughts...sound good!

    I do want to get back into the kitchen...we stepped away for awhile and go too into the habit of take-out food. So I've gotten my cookbooks out to refresh my cooking muscle memory...tomorrow it's Chicken Putanesca. Wish me luck!

    gail

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  61. ikw,...

    and more will join them when I get back to the native plant nursery!

    I keep meaning to get snow drops! The little bulbs aren't peaking out yet...that will be in February. What an odd year this may turn out to be weather wise.

    I am so glad you stopped by...

    gail

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  62. I have read A Southern Garden probably two dozen times. It's an excellent reference, since she lived only 30 miles from where I am when she wrote the book, and I love her writing. It's timeless.

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  63. Hmmm... Ms Lawrence definitely sounds like she's impressed many gardeners. I never get a chance to read garden books. May be someday...
    That photo with a conch looks great! Love the conch.

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  64. Oh dear, I'm going to come off as "frivolous" I'm afraid for nothing near so deep as been on my mind lately. I haven't read anything by Elizabeth Lawrence and now I feel remis after reading your thoughtful post. You will never believe it but my first gardening mentor was Martha Stewart! I had just gotten married, never had my own garden and someone gave me a copy of her book "Gardening." I fell instantaneously in love and knew I wanted to create something beautiful in my own yard too. Of course it's evolved a lot since then (and I've had other mentors) but reading her book is really what sparked my passion. As usual, you've given us another thought provoking post! Hope you're enjoying a great weekend.

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  65. Kathleen,

    Never would I think you frivolous...never! I think Martha was the mentor for a lot of us. She captivated us all...what an incredibly talented woman. She brought a bit of grace and elegance to America...what a powerhouse she is! I didn't happen upon her until I was "under" Elizabeth Lawrence's wing! By then I had embraced the difficulties of this site and was also looking at native plants for difficult spots! Even tho that isn't EL's thing, I still loved reading her books.

    Now I am really curious~~what is your garden style?
    I know you live in Colorado but not where. Is all of Colorado considered dryland gardening?

    Gail

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  66. Sweetbay,

    I've read here that often, too. It is timeless as you said! Lucky you to actually be able to garden as she did! I tried to find a first edition copy of A Southern Garden and did! It was near $3000! I will be very happy with my paperback for a long while!

    Gail

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  67. Chandramouli,

    I like the conch shell photo, too! Decorating the garden with shells, stones, rusted metal and organic whimsy is what I like. What about you?

    gail

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  68. My oldest son gave me 6 !!!! of her books for Christmas. The Little Bulbs is one of them. What page are you on? She inspires me too. I love the way she writes. It's like you were talking to her on the front porch.

    She's teaching me to learn Latin also. I am not good at it because I didn't set my mind to it. It is now time to grow up(maybe) and learn all that hard stuff. I hope she makes it fun.

    Nice to see pictures of your garden today. I took one of those money plant pods along with me;)

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  69. Anna,

    I pick out a chapter I want to read and read it! So I've been reading Chapter 5 page 81 in my 1986 Duke University Press edition! She's fun...do read A Southern Garden next..the best in my opinion.

    Gail

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  70. Whew. Thanks for not believing I'm frivolous Gail, although I have my moments... It's hard to say what my gardening style is ~ probably eclectic ~ like my home. I feel like I should be doing waterwise gardening because of my climate (and water limitations), so I do some of that. I also like to plant for birds, butterflies and bees (and wildlife in general) so I also do some of that. But I have some water thirsty perennials I can't bear to part with (delphiniums for example) that belong more to an English garden or cottagey style. It's so hard for me to narrow down a style, isn't it? I see the beauty in them all....

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  71. Oh I forgot to answer your question about Colorado being dryland gardening. I think most of it is ~ I live in the northern part (east side of the Rockies), and we certainly don't get a lot of moisture ~ something like 10" per year?? Most of our water comes from mountain snows (run off) so I always hope for a good ski year! The first three years I lived in my house we were in a severe drought and watering was very limited. Thats when you appreciate the xeric approach.

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  72. Gail - Thanks for the inspiration. As I was reading the words to your intro paragraph, I was thinking, what beautiful prose. And there it was - your recommendation for just that, and gardening wisdom as well. It makes me want to take her book into the greenhouse on a sunny but cold day and read in a lawnchair surrounded by my plants, the heater and a cup of tea. Think I'll order those and try to do that. Frances is right -- maybe a little more reading and a little less blogging, I just told my DH today, that the blog and the web have seriously cut into my reading for pleasure. Maybe it's time to get back to it. I assume you've read Henry Mitchell? He's my favorite garden author.

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  73. Kathleen,

    I thought you might live some place with extreme conditions...10 inches of rain per year is extreme! I can't believe you can grow delphiniums! It must be the cool temps...no luck here, but they are gorgeous. I have a little annual larkspur and native delphinium tricorne that I really like! I would recommend the native but it needs moisture, too. If I had the budget I would set up a water collection system to save water in a cistern for use during the drought periods. They are not going away! Take care and I do hope you get enough snow;-) gail

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  74. Diane,

    Yep, more time in the greenhouse surrounded by your plants, the sunshine and a good book! It sounds wonderful! I can't believe I haven't read him but I am going to find a book and read it! Any recommendations?

    Gail

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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