When Carol at May Dreams Gardens selected Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters by Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence as February's Garden Blogger's Book Club selection, I was quite pleased. I had purchased the book back in November and hadn't been inspired to start reading it. This was the perfect catalyst.
Little did I know that once I started reading Two Gardeners that I would barely be able to put it down. I ended up finishing the book in three days. What a delightful book!
Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine White first "met" when Lawrence wrote to White to praise White's article, "A Romp in the Catalogs," published in The New Yorker in 1958. This began a correspondence that lasted until Katharine's death in 1977.
Over the almost 20 years that they wrote to one another, they only met once, in 1967. Their's was a friendship of distance, and of words. They were drawn together because of a common interest in gardening and writing, but as their correspondence deepened, they became friends and confidants.
Because they both write about gardening, the reader assumes that there will be a lot of horticultural descriptions and advice throughout the letters. And while there is much talk of gardens and plants - both women describe what's in bloom, specific flowers and the weather - gardening is not the only glue that holds these women's friendship together.
To me, in many ways, this was not so much a book about gardening but a book about being an author. Both women spent their lives in the publishing world - Katharine as an editor and writer for The New Yorker and Elizabeth as a book author and columnist for magazines and newspapers - and their overriding concern with publishing and books shines through their letters. From the first letter from Elizabeth to Katharine suggesting different catalogs that Katharine could review in her next article, to the last letter from Katharine to Elizabeth making final arrangements for their letters to be archived, these two women were writers first.
Throughout their correspondence, Katharine asks for advice on books, catalogs and horticulture, and uses the information she learns from Elizabeth in her articles. Likewise, Elizabeth bounces ideas off Katharine and asks for advice in dealing with publishers. During the years, they trade books that they think the other would like.
This all seems as if the correspondence was dry and professional, but it was anything but that. Each woman continually encourages and praises the other, listens to her friend's description of household ills and personal problems, and chats about friends and family. At one point, when Katharine is very ill, Elizabeth sends her cuttings of various flowers and plants from her garden.
Another overriding concern to both women is health. Katharine White had a lot of health problems through the course of the book and according to the editor she and her husband E. B. White were very concerned about their health. Elizabeth Lawrence cares for her sick mother at home through about 10 years of letters and discusses her situation often. Additionally, as both women age (Katharine was 84 when she died in 1977, and Elizabeth was about 10 years younger), both their own physical condition and that of those around them begins to deteriorate.
As a reader of these letters, I felt that I began to know these two women. I admired their devotion to family, sympathized with their pains and illnesses, and enjoyed watching their friendship take root and flower over the years.