Katharine White

Onward and Upward

Today is the anniversary of the death of the garden writer Katharine White.
Now, Katharine was married to Andy - but most of us probably know him as E.B. White, the author of three beloved children's books, Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte's Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970).
In the early 1930s, Katharine and Andy bought a farmhouse in North Brooklin, Maine. By the end of the decade, they left their place in New York for good and moved to the farmhouse permanently.
It was Katharine White who once wrote:

"From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens - the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind's eye."

Katharine began writing garden pieces for The New Yorker in 1958.
In 1979, Katharine's book Onward and Upward in the Garden was edited and published posthumously by her husband, Andy. Gardeners especially enjoy Andy's tenderly written preface to his gardener wife. Anatole Broyard gushed about Katharine's book in his review saying,

“It is itself a bouquet; the final blooming of an extraordinary sensibility.”

Now, Katharine carried on a marvelous correspondence with another garden writer: Elizabeth Lawrence. And, their letters convey a warmth and curiosity that I thought you would find delightful:

"July 2, 1958 [Katharine to Elizabeth]
Dear Miss Lawrence,
I am in New York for the moment, so it was on my desk here at The New Yorker that I found today your book, “The Little Bulbs”... Already I have dipped into it with delight. I shall carry it back with me to Maine next week and study it and consult it ... for years... 
The varieties [of bulbs] I have established ...are the obvious ones I’m afraid: the two colors of scylla, snowdrops, snowflakes, crocuses, white and blue grape hyacinths, and among the small tulips only Clusiana and Kaufmanniana. Your book will help me to expand, I hope…
June 15, 1959
Dear Elizabeth,
Here I am back again with a question, in spite of my promises.
...Do you know the address of Jan de Graaff and does de Graaff bring out a catalog? I have been studying the lily offerings for the autumn of this year and every one of them, both in specialists’ catalogs and in those of the big nurseries, of course, brags of lilies from the great de Graaff. 
P.S. It is 48 degrees here today and has been this for 48 hours. Discouraging. (Note the date!)
October 8, 1959
Dear Elizabeth,
Speaking of gourds, for the first time my small decorative gourds did not mature in time for me to wax and polish them while watching the World Series. I am a baseball fan, I hate to confess — and I have loved baseball since I was a child.
November 1959 Friday morning
Dear Katharine,
I don’t know anything about modern flowers that have lost their fragrance.
I think some hybrid roses are as sweet as old ones. At the fall flower show, I was intoxicated by the scent of one flower of Sutter’s Gold...
How in the world do you accomplish all you do?
I have been interrupted five times since I came to my desk an hour ago, the last by a friend who wouldn’t take the plants I offered on a day I was in the garden and would like to have them right now. I told her to come on. If she doesn’t she will choose a still worse time."

Aren't those letters magnificent?

You can read all of Katharine and Elizabeth's letters in detail in a wonderful book called Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence--A Friendship in Letters by Emily Herring Wilson.

After Katharine died, her husband Andy sent a little verse he had written to their close friends and family. It said simply:

"To all who loved my lovely wife.
To all who spoke their sorrow, 
I send this printed card of thanks 
so l can face tomorrow.

I’d hoped to write a full reply 
To each, to say “I love you.”
But I’ll reveal the sticky truth: 
There’s just too many of you."

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Katharine White
Katharine White

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