Sima Eliovson

Sima Eliovson

{My gratitude la plus chaleureuse to her son Robin Eliovson for what he told me, and for what he gave me.}

The doyenne of garden writing in South Africa.

Opinionated: ‘‘The idea of a ‘shrubbery’ where every shrub is planted at equal distances from the others, vigorous and weak ones together, and left to struggle in dusty obscurity, is thoroughly repellent.”

Thorough: ‘‘As anyone will realize, [she writes in the introduction to her infallible South African flowers for the garden, 1955] the task of making a choice from a flora which is one of the richest in the world is not a simple one. It was necessary to make a study of as many genera as possible [...] I worked my way through all the illustrations in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine, noting all the South African flowers which had been grown by the Royal Horticultural Society at Kew since 1790. I have similarly studied all the available volumes of the Botanical Register, the Flowering Plants of South Africa, Marloth's Flora of South Africa. With these beginnings I made a study of these plants in real life [during] many long travels with my husband in different parts of the country.”

Prolific and popular: she published twelve books on gardening and gardeners. Her The complete gardening book for Southern Africa (1960), ubiquitous (here its spine is behind Betty Scholtz) on the shelves of gardeners, went through seven editions in eleven years. So great was her publisher Howard Timmins' faith in her work that he carried the costs of publishing South African flowers for the garden, a large book with 306 pages and generously illustrated ‘‘with the confident hope that it will be a success.” (Introduction to South African flowers for the garden, 1955.)

And, biographically speaking, unknown.

From her books I learned that she was born in Cape Town, educated in Johannesburg and majored with English and History at Wits University. Then she trained as a teacher ‘‘and taught for a short time”. In 1942 she got married to Ezra Eliovson, photographer of many of her books, and had three sons to whom a number of her books were dedicated: Robin, Peter and Stephen. And I had her erstwhile address: 16, North Road, Dunkeld West, Johannesburg.

That's what she tells of herself. I need to know more.

This is a woman who wrote a book Gardening the Japanese way (1970) and was friends with Horace Kaduri and Professor Tsukimoto. These names mean little to me (I've never read the book), but this name sure got my whole attention: Roberto Burle Marx, as in The gardens of Roberto Burle Marx by Sima Eliovson. >>