By Jeannette Hardy
The plot for Eudora Welty’s most autobiographical novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, unfolds after the family patriarch, Judge McKelva, prunes a rose heavy with memories in his rambling garden. The rose, called Becky’s Climber in the book, comes straight out of Welty’s garden in Jackson, Mississippi. When I visited the garden that surrounds her Tudor-style house, I was astonished to see the inspiration for Becky’s Climber arrayed along a fence, its dangling canes returning me to the pages of The Optimist’s Daughter, which I’d read a year or so earlier. That rose was just the beginning of connections I saw between the evocative southern plants in Welty’s garden and the ones she relied on to establish a sense of place in her books.
If you go to the garden on Pinehurst Street, which opened to the public last April, brace yourself for a primer on the native and heirloom plants that dominate Mississippi’s landscape. There are camellias of every stripe, banana shrub (Michelia fuscata), and other fragrant plants, along with bulbs galore