Possumhaw: Healing power of planting


Shannon Bardwell



"With the emphasis on greenery as a cure for social problems of every ilk, it was only a matter of time before reform-minded women formed organizations dedicated to gardening and gardens -- and to enlarging women's role in this important civic arena." (circa 1913)  


-- from "One Writer's Garden: Eudora Welty's Home Place," by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown 




In the last few days I've been speechless, and I can only blame it on the profusion of beautiful flowers in and around the yard. Sam and I both contracted sinusitis, resulting in my case in laryngitis. Being mute was an eye-opener. I couldn't make my own doctor appointment and had to list my symptoms on paper. I whispered to Sam the doctor said it was best not to whisper because it would stress my vocal cords, to which Sam only smiled.  


On the same day, the internet collapsed and I realized how dependent I had become on internet information. Not to be outdone, I grabbed books I had been meaning to read. The first was "One Writer's Garden: Eudora Welty's Home Place," by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown, with photographs by Langdon Clay.  


I briefly met Susan Haltom during her book signing at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. I perused Langdon Clay's stunning photographs many times but had never read the story of the Welty gardens and Eudora's parents. I'm embarrassed to say the book was published in 2011, and here it is 2018 and I had not read the book. Where did the time go? 


What better time to read a gardening book. I read Eudora's story and looked out the sunroom windows and was overtaken more with the beauty of spring than with pollen allergies. What a blessing it was to be forced to sit still and be quiet. 


There's a trend in both cookbooks and gardening books to write stories along with the subject matter -- not just a manual but a life story. Eudora's "One Writer's Beginnings" is her own accounting of her writing life through 1983, but the garden book is more insight into time and place. 


The gardens were started by Eudora's mother, Chestina, a transplant from West Virginia, in 1925. As the Welty's built their new Belhaven home in Jackson, Chestina was designing "her three main outdoor rooms," as she referred to her gardens and a side living porch. Not unlike the popular outdoor living areas created today, though perhaps without grills, fireplaces and mosquito repellant. 


"Women of Chestina's generation learned from garden writers that exposure to outdoor scenery would improve physical health and lift spirits in this period of mind-boggling change," an excerpt reads. 


Susan Haltom, with a few others, met with Eudora in 1994. "I cannot bear to look out the window and see what has become of my mother's garden," Welty said. She explained that the infirmities of old age and the loss of her yardman of over forty years had conspired against the landscape, and it had reached a crisis point, the book shared.  


Meticulous study and hard labor has restored the house and gardens which are now open to visitors. April to May is said to be peak season. I will have to speak with Sam about this as soon as I am able. 


Tours of the Welty house and gardens are Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and second Saturdays. Make reservations at 601-353-7762 and eudorawelty.org.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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