/The garden is a container of memory’ Curator who restored Welty Garden is retiring

The garden is a container of memory’ Curator who restored Welty Garden is retiring

Haltom uses pruners to dead-head yesterday’s flowers, and introduces the perennials as originals that Eudora Welty’s mother Chestina and then Eudora. Every flower has a story. Many of these stories are a result of generations of people who have tended, studied, and found inspiration and solace here. Haltom stops by the stand of Tiger Lilies to do a similar amount of maintenance and add a few literary references. She then slows down past the Nicotiana and considers the blossoms of the flowering tobacco plant and its place in a Welty tale. After more than 25 years, Haltom will be retiring at the end June. She will continue to provide advice to those who are entrusted with maintaining the garden, including the Cereus Weeders (her core group of volunteers named after the night-blooming Cereus plants that grace the Eudora Welty House’s side porch). Every view from that porch conjures up a historical tidbit and a botanical observation. Nearly a century ago, the now-towering cedar tree was only six feet tall. Gardenia flowers, which are just outside of the fragrance range, would be first to smell a memory. Haltom was an artist and had gardening mentorship from Glenn Haltom of Natchez. She also worked part-time at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. In 1994, she was asked to work in the Welty Garden. Welty was in her 80s at the time. Haltom recalls, “Here’s her big statement to me: I can’t bear looking out the window and seeing what has become of mother’s garden.'” Welty was confused as to what to do after she lost her beloved yard man of 40years to retirement. His replacement was a “mow and blow-and-go guy”, which was the exact opposite of her treasured yardman. Haltom didn’t either, at first. The 10-year-old garden restoration was made possible by research, including conversations with Welty and later her correspondence and photos, as well as her mother’s gardening notebook. A strong network of support and knowledge helped to fuel the project. “So, it’s authentic, just as Eudora was.” Luther Ott, then Stewpot Community Services director at the time, enlisted the help of a few of his clients and pulled poison ivy four months ago to expose some of the garden’s “bones”. To get to Welty’s clubhouse, where Welty and her friends performed dramas, Haltom recalls that they had to dig out a gully made of bamboo. She laughs, “It’s been so fun!” “But I didn’t know how I would get there in 1994.” Garden preservation was new at the time. It was distinguished by its attempts to preserve historic appearance and character, its reliance upon historic documentation, its contribution towards an historic property’s interpretation, and many other things. Haltom states that the Garden Conservancy, Southern Garden History Society, Haltom (a former president), The Eudora Welty Foundation, Evelyn Jefcoat of Laurel, and especially Haltom were invaluable in the restoration effort. They supported the restoration effort with arbors and trellises made from tubular steel, rather than rot-prone wooden. The preservation architect Robert Parker Adams designed them to match the photos of the original garden. Haltom also restored the little clubhouse and wrote a book about the garden. Many people ask Haltom whether Welty could have seen the work in progress in the years prior to her death in 2001. Haltom replies, “Not exactly.” “But she knew that someone, me — had its best interest at heart.” Haltom would usually come alone to work in the garden, keep it under observation, and then visit Welty. She didn’t take any notes until she was driving away, then she would jot down everything she remembered. Haltom states, “Don’t make it something it wasn’t” — this was Eudora’s dictum. To me, this meant that she didn’t want the garden to be grand or decorated in any way, such as Longwood Gardens or Biltmore House or any other larger gardens she had not used as inspiration. It was very personal for her. It was very personal. Welty’s mother was the garden design expert. She focused on the spatial relationships and the continuity of the blooms throughout the year. “Eudora loved to look at flowers closely, noting their habit, detail, fragrance, and all that goes toward… the personality and personality of that particular flower.” Welty used flowers as character names and keys for a sense of place. She would be able to recognize that flowers were everywhere at this time because they were cultivated by women. They didn’t need to be there every Monday boiling clothes. “This was in the 1920s when women were able to vote. They were also driving cars. They had telephones at home and could call each other.” Haltom says. This ties the garden’s design to its official period of significance between World War I-World War II to the era’s innovations, social changes, and women’s expanding spheres of influence and creativity. Women were already sharing their plants by that time. From decades-old women’s clubs, garden clubs were born. These clubs helped to improve personal and communal lives through education and charitable work by organized volunteers. According to Haltom, gardens were their refuge and creative outlet during the Great Depression. Many people return to their gardens in unusual times like the present. “… That’s a good thing.” In 2004, the Welty Garden was opened to the public. It has been restored to its 1925-1945 significance. Haltom points out that it wasn’t complete. As trees grow, the canopy also changes, it’s constantly changing. The maintenance and preservation of an historic garden is a different process than landscape maintenance. It requires attention to detail. The garden survived the Great Depression, and the Weltys were able to rely on it for support during difficult times. However, she worries about its future as budget cuts threaten the garden’s survival. Jessica Russell takes over the garden focus role at Eudora Welty house & garden as the new MDAH position as garden projects specialist. Russell was instrumental in the creation of an Instagram account that highlighted the garden’s “parade” (in Welty’s words), and he also helped to boost the website’s visibility, which now features a colorful Bloom Calendar. He also worked with Haltom to create a dozen unique plant labels that highlight their connection to the author. Russell hopes to diversify and increase the number of volunteers at the garden. Haltom states that “She sees the big picture.” Russell said that Russell is committed to ensuring that there is a culture of advocacy for the gardens that extends beyond the staff. Russell also noted that Eudora Welty House & Garden Director Lauren Rhoades is a strong advocate for the garden. In the last fiscal year (July 2018 to June 2019, Eudora Welty House & Garden saw 5,192 visitors. More than half were on guided tours. The Bettye Jolly Lecture and Jane Austen film screenings, Jazz Nights, plant sale, and Scholastic Awards Program are the most popular programs on the site. The pandemic has forced Welty Garden to close its doors at 10 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The whole site, Eudora Welty house and Visitors Center are now open for tours from Tuesday through Friday, July 7. Haltom states that this garden is easily accessible because it looks similar to their grandmother’s or aunt’s gardens or any place they recognize as a place. This is Mississippi. She’s seen people walk through the garden and weep. She’s heard people say that it’s just like when they walked into “The Optimist’s Daughter,” Welty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. “It has been a great blessing in my life to be associated this.” Haltom shared the story of the garden in 250 lectures, from Texas to Pennsylvania. The restoration story, nuts and bolts methods, and much more were covered by Haltom. Also, she wrote the book “One Writer’s Garden – Eudora Welty’s House Place” with Jane Roy Brown, which was beautifully photographed by Langton clay. Haltom states, “What resonates with everyone is the story. It could be Eudora’s life story, the story about this garden over the years, or what Eudora wrote.” She worries about details but the key is the story. “And, we want to see the story move forward. She says that the garden is a container for memories at one point. This reminds her of a Welty quote about the subject. It could be this: “The strands of memory are all there; nothing is ever lost to the memory.”