Sunday, May 17, 2015

One Place Understood

One Place Understood
There wasn’t much to do in Jackson, Mississippi in the years between the wars.  Nights were quiet and the heady concoction of gardenia and jasmine that had steeped in the afternoon heat now hung, almost liquid, in the humid air.  Spared the robotic roar of air-conditioners, the houses that lined Pinehurst Street shared snippets of conversation, music, and laughter through their opened windows.  As the fragrant night darkened to velvet, a crowd began to gather at No. 1119, a gracious Tudor with an arched front door.  Summoned by an advertisement in the local paper, these lucky souls were there to witness, and to celebrate, a lovely event.  A night flower was about to bloom.

The night-blooming cereus is a strange plant; a rather ugly one, if I am completely honest.  A member of the cactus family, it has but one attribute worth noting, but that one attribute is a doozy.  Once a year and only in the dead of night, it produces a spectacular flower - snow white, spidery, magnificent.  Such a sight to behold, it prompted a group of its fans to form a club in Jackson, Mississippi in the 30’s.  The Night Blooming Cereus Club took its name from the popular song of the time… “Life is just a bowl of cherries.  Don’t take it ‘cereus’, life’s too mysterious”….. and the wonderful writer, Eudora Welty, was a founding member.  Whenever one of the club members had a night-blooming cereus about to do what its name suggests, they would take out an ad to announce it and members would flock to their home for a grand, all-night party.  As I write this, I am looking at one of the ancestors of Miss Welty’s night-blooming cereus, something that tickles me no end.

It was the creation of my new back garden that led me to visit Mississippi.  Having read that there was to be a plant sale featuring plants from the garden of one of my favourite authors, how could I stay home?  It was my first visit to Miss Welty’s home and stepping inside felt both revelatory and divinely familiar.  

There is a scent in the air of all well-mannered Southern houses, a melange of lemons, garden roses and old paper.  This perfume met me as soon as I walked through the door, so evocative that I almost looked around for my great-aunt.  The house has been saved as it was when Eudora lived there.  It’s almost as though she’s just stepped out to go to the store.  Books, oh my soul, books on every available surface - a significant sight that assuaged a boat load of housekeeper’s guilt for me.   Miss Welty’s writing desk sits by the large double window in her bedroom.  From here she could hear the music from the choral classes of Belhaven College across the street as it wafted through that open window.  I could almost see her - could almost hear the song.  

Her famous garden was so recognizable I felt as though I’d walked back into my own childhood.  Here were the old roses, the violets, the buckeye trees, fragrant and unbowed in the face of a promised early morning thunderstorm. Here were the camellias and the irises, serenely feminine in their spring finery. It was an unheard of luxury to gather up some of Eudora’s plants to include in my garden.  I see them now as I write, soaking up the morning sun, and I like to think a little of her remarkable spirit is now residing amongst my flowers. 

 Eudora Welty once wrote, 
“One place understood helps us understand all places better”. 
 I understood her place very well.
I’ll let you know when my night-blooming cereus is ready to bloom.  
We’ll have a party.

Sidenote:  ……In true Southern fashion, there was cake and lemonade being served on the side porch by ladies of the Welty Foundation and I sat to talk with them for a long while.  One told me of the days when her son was small and she would push his carriage past Miss Welty’s house on walks every afternoon.  Framed in that upstairs window like a painting, Eudora could be clearly heard, typing away.  She would look out as the lady passed by, spy the baby and, waving her hand out the window, she’d call out loudly…”Sweeeeet Baby” … and continue writing.  

See more photos from Eudora's garden on my Instagram Page.
And To Find Out More.....

A wonderful tour through the Welty garden. 
I adore this book.
Find it HERE

A slender volume that introduces one to Eudora.
I adore that cover photo, her high-school graduation shot.
She was sixteen.
Can you imagine looking that self-aware and intelligent at sixteen?!
Find it HERE

A delightful collection of gardening letters, 
something I can never get enough of.
Find it HERE


  1. Another wonderful view of Eudora Welty can be had by reading "What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell." Both were gardeners, of course, and they gifted each other frequently with bulbs, flowers, etc. Through these letters her speaking voice and thoughts come through loud and clear, whether they relate to gardening or maybe only family events in their daily life. She and Maxwell and his family were life-long friends. Even through these letters, however, one can tell that she kept her personal life very private. A very enjoyable read.

  2. I feel I've been to Eudora's garden with you Pamela. I'm totally captivated. Don't you just love the story from the volunteer who would walk past her house each afternoon to hear her tapping away on her typewriter. Pamela, just love seeing your garden on IG. As it's late Autumn here, even the trees are bare, so I have nothing to share with you. Photos of gardens from the Northern Hemisphere cheer me no end whilst the garden is dormant. Please keep posting.
    Pamela, you must start your own night blooming group .........just for the parties!!!
    Anita xx

  3. I enjoyed this so very much - thank you! Another good look into the world of Eudora is her "One Writer's Beginnings." And now to check into the wonderful books that you've introduced to us!

  4. Wonderful. And you are right - certain Southern homes do smell of a melange of garden roses, lemon and old paper.

  5. Loved this! A perfect start to my day.
    I have "One Writer's Garden . . . " have posted on it, recommended our garden club read/discuss it (they did), and refer to it often. I now need to find "Tell About Night Flowers". Thank you.

  6. There is something about the era of Eudora we will never see again. There was more awareness of beauty - even though it may not always have been conscious! The uniqueness of regional style is being lost to the monotony of national retailers promoting a blandness sold across the country. Pamela, keep reminding us of what you love about your region of the country.

  7. Eudora Welty was invited to our woman's college when I was a freshman. I loved reading her books and could not wait to hear her. Listening to her read her own words was not only captivating (she treated us to a reading of my favorite story "The Petrified Man"), it transformed me at that moment in time. She was magnificent, tall and lanky, ladylike and Southern, one and the same, funny and humble, grand to admire, like out of a page of her books...Thank you for bringing her back to life.


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