Loved by Southerners, these flowers captivated one of our great writers.
Eudora Welty dreamed of camellias. More specifically, she once had an all-night dream in which she saw “all the billions of camellias in the world” slowly narrowed down to millions and then hundreds. It continued until she saw only one of the originals.
The literary genius from Jackson, Mississippi, described the dream in detail in a 1941 letter to her agent, friend and fellow gardener Diarmuid Russell. This letter is compiled in Julia Eichelberger’s Her Tell About Night Flowers: Eudora Welty’s Gardening Letters, 1940-1949. Welty’s fiction is full of references to flowers, but like the flowers she carefully cultivates, her letters reflect her level of gardening expertise.
Though she traveled far, she spent most of her life in the home her parents built on Pinehurst Street in Jackson, and continued to use the well-designed outdoor spaces there as a cornerstone of her mother’s garden long after Cestina’s death in 1966. I was calling. With typical humor, she calls herself “mother’s gardener.” But she couldn’t deny her knowledge of her plants and her passion for certain flowers, especially camellias.
“When she lived in New York, her mother would send camellias on the express train from Jackson and they would arrive the next day,” says Jessica Russell, director of Eudora Welty House & Garden. “Cestina had them wrapped in damp cotton for her daughter to take to her apartment in town. As in, she sent these same beauties to a literary agent in New York.
Welty’s mother designed the garden in 1925 while the family’s new home was being built. Over the years, the duo took care of them together. “Welty was more of a plant woman than a designer,” Russell explains. “She loved every flower individually and perused her reference books and catalogues.”
Russell says it was the author who filled Welty Garden’s “camellia room” with camellias, planting and grafting about 30 different varieties. The garden now has about 50 colorful evergreen shrubs. Among them are the early blooming flowers in front of the house that Welty planted at his mother’s request.
She assembled her collection from a variety of sources, including the Mississippi Market Bulletin and her favorite shops, says Russell. Some of the camellia varieties in the garden were bred by Kosaku Sawada, a late nursery teacher and famous camellia advocate. Welty was known to take a pair of scissors to her car and cut out a beautiful old plant she saw or two he saw while driving.
But no matter how many camellias she discovered, there was one she preferred over all others. say. “This was a gift to Welty from John Robinson, with whom Welty had a ten-year relationship. A fighter pilot during World War II, she worried about him throughout the war and watched over his factory while he was away. The more common name is “Catherine Cathcart,” but Welty calls her “Layla.” “
In 1994, seven years before the author’s death, Susan Haltom was asked to work with the Mississippi State Archives and the Department of History to oversee the restoration of the garden. It would be years of loving work, detailed in One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place, which Haltom co-authored with Jane Her Roy Brown. Great care was taken to thoughtfully revive what her mother and daughter had created together, rather than replace it with something grander.
“Welty Gardens is open to the public,” says Russell. “Because we are not separated from the community, we often see students reading books, couples taking pictures on dates and proposing.
What about the camellia itself? “The story continues. It has been many years since Welty died, but her plants have lived on and are still growing. “We are witnessing a new generation of unique camellias that are descended from the camellias of the genus,” says Russell. “They are a living connection between us and her.”
About 35 unique camellia varieties are now on display in the garden that Welty grew with his mother. As well as being amazed with an explosion of beauty and color each year, some of the carefully tended plants were referenced in some of the author’s most notable fiction.
‘Elisabeth’ is more common with pure white flowers, but Welty Garden’s bushes vary and come in several different colours.
This rose-pink gem is at the heart of Welty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, and embodies one of the story’s main themes.
Kosaku Sawada’s wife brought 500 seeds from Japan to the United States as a dowry and had great success with camellias. He planted his first ‘Victory White’ in 1931.
This camellia came to America via Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina.
In Welty’s novel Delta Wedding, Lady Claire Buchanan has red hair and chicken pox. She is named after this camellia, the reddest variety in her garden.
Welty planted this early-blooming flower next to the front steps of her home to provide a pop of color early in the season.
‘White Empress’ is usually distinguished by a large cluster of central stamens uninterrupted by central petals.
Her most prized plant was a gift from fighter pilot and fellow author John Robinson. She fell in love with him and this flower.
plan a trip
Eudora Welty House & Garden is known as a stop on the American Camellia Society’s Gulf Coast Camellia Trail. The best time to see Welty Gardens flowers is from November to March, usually peaking in his February. The gardens are free, but tickets are required to enter the house.
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Read the original article on Southern Living.