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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Garden Bloggers Book Club

My Friend Elsa

Though I haven’t read Dear Friend and Gardener I have my own great garden friend. When I moved to my Massachusetts hilltop, I found that one of our area’s most famous perennial gardeners, Elsa Bakalar, lived on a neighboring hilltop. She was a generation older, British, much more knowledgeable about flower gardens, and way more opinionated than I was about anything but happy to befriend a novice.

She is a born teacher, and even now living in a nursing home, she is always imagining classes and lectures she is ready to present.

I knew nothing about perennials and never imagined growing any flower more exotic than a marigold, but she taught me and I encouraged her to write, to put all those good lessons down on paper where they could be shared. We started writing together. It was my byline that appeared under The Flower Garden According to Elsa in the January 1987 issue of Horticulture Magazine with fabulous photographs by Gary Mottau, but the very definite and charming opinions were all Elsa’s.

Elsa not only has skill in the garden, as well as a strong aesthetic sense, she has a sharp wit. It is her sense of humor that helped make her a sought after lecturer at garden clubs, flower shows and botanical gardens all across the country. The tales she brought back from Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art entertained all of us in Heath.

The speaking engagements finally inspired her to put down her thoughts about gardening. Though she held strong opinions, she believed that gardeners should please themselves. Bring on the gnomes and flamingos if that’s what the gardener loved. Her book is aptly titled A Garden of One’s Own: Making and Keeping Your Flower Garden. Elsa was insistent about using those brisk Anglo-Saxon words – make and keep. Forget designing and creating she said. The book came out in time to mark her 75th birthday in 1994.

After we met she watched me put in a 90 foot perennial border and knew how foolish that was at that stage of my life and responsibilities. She just shrugged when it disappeared. She grew a single Queen Elizabeth rose, but appreciated my collection of hardy roses as it grew. Imitation was not considered a compliment in her book. For Elsa the garden is all about pleasure. That was the only thing she demanded a gardener find there. It is what I find with Elsa.

9 comments to Garden Bloggers Book Club

  • Larch Hill

    That was an exceptionally charming tribute to your neighbor Elsa! Thank you for writing it today.

  • Carol

    What a great ‘real life’ story of gardening friends. We should all be so fortunate as to find someone like Elsa who could guide us and teach us.

    I’ll include a link back to this post in the ‘virtual meeting post’ to be published later on my blog this evening.

    Thanks for joining in!
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  • Lisa at Greenbow

    Elsa sounds like my kinda woman. :)
    Her book sounds like a read I will have to do. Thank you for writing about this book.

  • Phillip

    What a wonderful post. I vividly recall reading this book when it was first published and I loved it. I’m curious to know what became of her garden after she retired to the nursing home?

  • Nan Ondra

    Thanks for sharing that story, Pat. A Garden of One’s Own is a book I enjoy rereading every year or two, and I also have her “Portrait of a Gardener” video.

  • Pat Leuchtman

    Phillip, Elsa’s garden was ultimately sold to a lovely family, two artists and their children. They loved everything but I know they had a very different aesthetic and I don’t know what it looks like now.
    Nan, I know Elsa will be so happy to know you enjoyed her book and her video.

  • Kerri

    There is no friendship more satisfying to me as finding a kindred spirit who loves growing things as much as I do. And finding a knowledgable friend who’s willing to share that knowledge is a marvelous gift! Elsa sounds like a wonderful lady :) I’ll look up her book.

  • Pat Leuchtman

    Kerri,
    It is wonderful to be able to learn from other people who turn out to be lifelong friends. And there is no group of people so generous as gardeners.

  • Free Dahlias

    Very Interesting Information, Thanks

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