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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Beautiful At All Seasons by Elizabeth Lawrence for GBBC

This post on the book Beautiful At All Seasons was written by Annie in Austin for The Transplantable Rose.

Elizabeth Lawrence wasn't a TV star in charge of garden makeovers- she lived with her mother, made gardens in a couple of Carolina cities, wrote columns for local newspapers, corresponded with other gardeners and was the author of several beloved books, including A Southern Garden,The Little Bulbs, and Gardens in Winter. Bill Neal gathered up many of her columns in Through The Garden Gate, published in 1990. Now, more than twenty years after Miss Lawrence's death, we gladly pony up the price of another collection of her columns, written for a local audience back when the president was named Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson. The plants Elizabeth Lawrence speaks of may be regional, but her thoughts are abounding and universal and what a trip you can go on when following her words! Do not think she writes only for the South or that she has nothing to say to modern people. This classically educated woman may look ladylike but she is interested in everything and to get to the plants she'll join her friends in crawling across the forest floor hoping to catch a scent from early wildflowers, or confess to sneaking into the University of Padua Botanical Garden when it was inconveniently closed, only to be chased out of the park by furious Italian guards.

Beautiful in all Seasons, Southern Gardening and Beyond with Elizabeth Lawrence was put together by North Carolina writer Ann L. Armstrong and Lindie Wilson, the woman who bought Elizabeth Lawrence's house in 1986, thinking she'd bought a house but discovering that she now owns a garden shrine. The earlier collection, The Garden Gate, consists of columns written between 1957 and 1971, arranged rather like a daybook, taking you throughout the year. Beautiful In All Seasons is divided by subject matter, allowing you to read what EL wrote about the same plant, idea, principle, or holiday over the years. Since both books consist of short newspaper columns, they're perfect for quick refreshing dips when time is tight.

The introduction to Beautiful At All Seasons speaks of Miss Lawrence's "well-furnished mind" - a concise and exact description of what it's like to read her books. Do any of you know the Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn movie Desk Set, seen here in a poster from Amazon.com? The 1957 movie pits research and information person Katharine Hepburn's memory and retrieval skills against Spencer Tracy's EMERAC, the room-sized Electronic Brain. Somehow I think Elizabeth Lawrence would not only triumph over EMERAC, but would be a whiz on getting the best out of Google if she were around today.

I'm so glad MayDreams Carol chose this book for the Garden Bloggers Book Club! Although I didn't receive my copy until Friday, I've already taken quite a few refreshing dips, and was pretty pumped up when I read the article titled 'Importance of Garden Details'. Both Elizabeth Lawrence and I came up with the same Aspidistra/Holly Fern combination after trial and error. But she discovered this in 1963, while my reinvention took place in 2005.

Last week something EL wrote in 1970 added an extra dimension to my day. The cilantro was going to seed all over so I'd been harvesting some of the little round seed capsules, leaving some to reseed. You probably know that while the leaves are cilantro, the plant is Coriander.

I was collecting these coriander seeds for Chicken Mole, bu
t while gleaning the seeds off the stems, I remembered that in a column called "Savory Seeds" from Through the Garden Gate, EL had talked about coriander seeds, along with others in the umbelliferae like caraway, dill and fennel. She said that coriander seeds were once coated with fondant to make a type of comfit, used to bribe children to be quiet in church. She noted that, "Alice had a box of comfits in her pocket when she followed the white rabbit down his hole. She produced it at the end of the Caucus-race....there was exactly one apiece all round."

I looked at the seeds - trying to imagine something that tasted like cilantro as the center of a candy, rinsed off a couple and gingerly bit them. The taste was quite different from the leaves - it was like some kind of citrus. With the outside temperatures approaching 100 °F and the A/C chugging away, it didn't seem like a good idea to pull out pans and a candy thermometer and make fondant...perhaps there was a simpler way to make a coriander candy. A few Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips smooshed around a couple of coriander seeds tastes enough like chocolate-covered orange peels to keep even me quiet for a few minutes.

This post on the book Beautiful At All Seasons was written by Annie in Austin for The Transplantable Rose.


  1. Annie,

    What a lovely tribute to EL! Wasn't she something! I can as easily imagine her at a function in white gloves as I can crawling around on the forest floor. How right you are to compare her to the KS character in Desk Set, hands down beating the giant google machine!

    Now that I am looking over her books, it's time for me to learn some of her ruthlessness and rip out bothersome or none productive plants!

    There is always a bowl of seeds including coriander for customers to help themselves to as they leave our favorite Indian Restaurant...it is sweet and savory and is, I think a kind of mouth cleansing mixture! My husband loves it.


  2. Annie, your review makes me want to abandon all housework, laundry and perhaps even the more trying chores of the garden, in favor of sitting in the shade reading books by Elizabeth Lawrence, while eating comfit candy. Thank you for a great review!

    I think we garden bloggers ought to meet up in Charlotte some year and go to 'the shrine' of at least 20th century garden writing and gardening.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  3. "Do not think she writes only for the South or that she has nothing to say to modern people."

    Amen to that, Annie! If I could write with a smidgen of EL's ability, I'd be a very happy writer indeed.

  4. Through the Garden Gate is going to be the next EL book I read, I think. I can't imagine trying to narrow down her 14 years worth of newspaper columns to a book-length selection. I wonder if the originals are available through any newspaper archives online?

    I have a cookbook by Bill Neal (Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie) and now I wonder if there are any recipes featuring coriander seeds in it. The seed and leaf are both used frequently in Indian cooking, but I never thought of adding the seed to sweet dishes. BTW, would you be willing to share your Chicken Mole recipe?

  5. HUH! Now I want to go eat coriander and chocolate, to see what I'm missing... I never would have guessed that Alice's "comfits" were those kinds of confections. Way cool.

  6. I'm glad you liked my words, Gail - and that ruthlessness could come in handy here sometimes, too.
    I wonder if there are similar bowls of seeds at Indian restaurants here? Maybe this demands some research ;-]

    Your house will look like mine if you do that, Carol! Although the shade is inside the office, and what I'm reading is blogs instead of books!

    I love the idea of a meeting in Charlotte!

    You have more than a smidgen, dear MSS, and your attention to detail is similar to EL's, I think.
    I remember noticing A Southern Garden in your recommended books when I first read your blog...it was fun to see we had favorite authors in common.

    It's the one I've reread most, Entangled - but I never read The 'Little Bulbs', so might be missing another winner. I was afraid that reading it while living in either Northern Illinois or Austin would just be torture, as opposed to reading it in Virginia or Carolina!

    I start out with a real recipe but end up throwing everything into mole - a mixture of dried peppers, ground almonds, sesame, etc... if I get something coherent together it may appear on the Addendum.

    Every few years I make a batch of chocolate-covered orange peels at Christmas time, Blackswamp Kim. I've loved the combination of citrus and dark chocolate since I was a kid. This was an interesting variation on a theme!
    But regular sweet white fondant? Alice can keep those in her pocket!

    Thank you for visiting!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. Great review and tribute Annie. I read this book last year (I read everything I can about Ms. Lawrence) and didn't realize it was on the garden club offering until today. I love that movie "Desk Set" as well! Cheers.

  8. From a lovely garden book straight down the rabbit hole and into Alice in Wonderland, comfits and all. The only thing missing is the Mad Hatters tea party. ;-)

  9. A great review Annie. It makes me want to read this book. I wasn't able to get to it this month mulch, I mean much tooo busy.

  10. Thank you, Phillip - I haven't read them all - still want the one about the market bulletins. You could still write a post for the book club!

    I have no Tiger-lily to tell me my petals are tumbled about, Yolanda Elizabetbut maybe the Daisies, Rose and Larkspur will have something to say! Down here the tea at the Mad Hatter's tea party would probably be Hibiscus.

    My favorite is still Through the Garden Gate, but any of them would be worth reading, Lisa at Greenbow - but you'll have to wait until things calm down!

    Thanks for the comments,



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