Dorothy Copeland, Gardener and Conservationist Dorothy Copeland, who appeared on Day to Day's very first show, died last week at age 100. Often referred to as the last white woman in Los Angeles' South Central neighborhood, Copeland gave us a tour of her garden and a first-person view of Los Angeles before World War II.
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Dorothy Copeland, Gardener and Conservationist

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Dorothy Copeland, Gardener and Conservationist

Dorothy Copeland, Gardener and Conservationist

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Next month, DAY TO DAY will be four years old. On our very first broadcast, listeners heard Alex Chadwick introduced an extraordinary woman.

Ms. DOROTHY COPELAND: This is one of the skills that ladies used to develop. It was all right for ladies to make lace, to China paint, and to wood carve.


That's Dorothy Copeland, Miss Dorothy as everyone called her. She died this month after a short of illness. She was just a few months shy of 101 years old.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates visited with her then and now has this appreciation.

(Soundbite of music)

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: When Dorothy Copeland moved into her South Los Angeles neighborhood in 1953, she was surrounded by people like her. They were white and often transplants from the Midwest. Everyone was drawn by the Los Angeles weather and the plentiful jobs and by the unimaginable luxury of oranges and lemons growing in their own backyards.

After the Watts riots of 1965, though, the white folks departed en masse. Many of the orange trees have since been cut down. But the yard behind Miss Dorothy's small stucco home remained a lush Eden.

What do you grow in your garden?

Ms. COPELAND: Anything that I find, that I enjoy, and that I know will survive in this climate. And almost anything will.

BATES: Cascades of succulents flourished in the terracotta pots. Flowering vines raced up wood and wire fences. Birdhouses swung from the lower branches of shady oaks. Miss Dorothy took me by my arm and pointed out two favorites.

Ms. COPELAND: When we moved here, I was greatly delighted because there was a large fig tree and a grape vine - two grape vines - concord grapes. And of course, in my family tradition to have one's own vine and fig tree was survival.

BATES: Dorothy Copeland not only survived, she loved living in this neighborhood where today many people are afraid to even visit. She cherished her neighbors and they returned the sentiment.

Ms. COPELAND: Everyone is very friendly and everybody checks if I need birdseed or needs milk or need - any emergency need that I might have - especially birdseed.

BATES: When she walked me through her garden in 2003, Miss Dorothy pointed to what looked like a pot of dead leaves that I would have thrown out if it had been in a corner of my yard. That would have been a mistake.

Ms. COPELAND: As soon as it blooms out and gets ugly and starts to die back, you'll throw it away. Don't do that. It puts out pups.

BATES: Pups are baby plants growing beneath the soil's surface. Miss Dorothy was pretty clear that things and people that seemed tapped out often had plenty of life just below the surface.

Dorothy Copeland enjoyed her life almost right up until it ended. She was active in several garden clubs and was ecologically aware decades before that became a Hollywood trend. This Sunday, gardeners from around Southern California will come together at a memorial service to honor Dorothy Copeland and her passion for gardening.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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