I just finished reading Two Gardeners : Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence–A Friendship in Letters edited by Emily Herring Wilson. It’s a good book to read when it’s winter and there’s nothing to do in the garden (which is what it was when I started it). Katharine and Elizabeth started writing each other in 1958, the year I was born. K was an editor at the New Yorker magazine, and E was the author of at least one book when they started, as well as the garden columnist for her local newspaper, and a garden designer. It helps if you have read at least a bit of each women’s writing, I think, before reading these letters. (K’s garden essays for the New Yorker were collected into a book, Onward and Upward in the Garden.) It will help you put their letter writing in context. At first, E comes across as the country mouse, and K as the city mouse, but as the letters unfold, you come to realize that E chose to stay home and had an extensive and varied correspondence with gardeners and scientists all over the country, and K, for all her big-city career, loved her New England farm and garden. I can’t say I learned a lot about gardening from reading this book, but I had a couple of suspicions confirmed. One, even “back then,” people of intelligence and creativity never had enough time to do everything they wanted to do, especially when family obligations and health problems interfered. “Not enough time” is a constant complaint of both women. Two, for gardeners, the weather has always been uncooperative. Another thread that runs through the correspondence is unexpected freezes, devastating winds, and too little rain.
This book made me realize how important correspondence can be. I can’t say I’m going to write more snail-mail letters, but I have running email communications with some people that I think are worth saving. I hope to save them soon as hard copies, and maybe put them on CD as well. And if I can’t write more bona fide, stamp-and-envelope letters, I’m going to try to include more letter-like details in my emails. There is a depth of communication often missing in email missives that doesn’t have to be lacking, and is at least some of what loved ones want when they long for “an honest-to-goodness” letter.