I spotted a copy of The Wonderful World of Bulbs by Bebe Miles (1963) at a local antique mall the other day and wondered why I’d never heard of the author.
Then I picked up the book, opened it, lost my footing, so to speak, and tumbled down another rabbit hole in search of Bebe Miles, another Lost Lady of Garden Writing.
I read her official author biography on the cover of her book so I know that Bebe was “a resident of Wayne, Pennsylvania, is a free-lance writer who loves to garden.”
She went to Syracuse University School of Journalism and was the editor of the student daily newspaper.
At one time, she had considered becoming an entomologist, botanist, or naturalist before deciding on journalist.
I also know from her book jacket biography that she worked for the Binghamton, New York, Sun, after graduating from college. (I briefly searched that newspaper’s archives for anything written by Bebe and came up empty handed. There was an actress, Bebe Daniels, whom I’d never heard of, who kept coming up in all my searches instead of this Bebe.)
Bebe also served as the editor fo the Syracuse Alumni Magazine for a year.
I also know Bebe was married, due to the references to her as “Mrs. Miles” in her brief biography, and she wrote for several gardening magazines including Flower Grower, Horticulture, Popular Gardening, and Flower and Garden.
After reading that, I pulled out my old copies of Horticulture from 1959 for a little old style sleuthing. Alas, I didn’t find any articles written by Bebe Miles. (If you are wondering why I have a complete year of Horticulture magazine from 1959, a former co-worker gave me them to me after she found them in a box of magazines she purchased at an estate sale.)
With all that info from the bio on her book, I thought it would be easy to piece together the rest of Bebe’s story through searches on newspapers.com and ancestry.com. But I couldn’t find an obituary, and I lacked some key information. Namely, her real first name and her maiden name.
Searching for her turned out to be like trying to open up a box that had been taped shut and you couldn’t find where the tape started. So I just picked and pulled and searched until I finally discovered through a newspaper article from 1973 that her husband’s name was Robert T. Miles.
From there, I was able to continue the search on ancestry.com and finally figured out that Bebe’s real name was Louise and her maiden name was Priore. But even as far back as college, she was called Bebe and used Bebe as her name on anything she wrote.
Here’s what I think is the rest of her story, subject to change if I find new information. Bebe was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 18, 1924, attended Syracuse University in the early 1940s, where she majored in journalism and served as an editor for the student newspaper. She was in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority and married Robert T. Miles in 1946. She passed away on June 21, 1980 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. In addition to writing several books about gardening, she also wrote articles for gardening magazines and spoke to garden clubs on various topics.
I don’t think she had any children. I couldn’t find an obituary anywhere, nor is her grave listed on Find-A-Grave. Update January 25, 2023! I received a copy of Bebe’s book, Bluebells & Bittersweet, and in her biography on the cover of that book, they note, “One of her daughters, Victoria, is a student of landscape architecture and did most of the drawings for the book.” So she did have children. With that info, I can dive deeper into ancestry.com to find out how many.
I am most interested in the two books she wrote in the 1960s – The Wonderful World of Bulbs (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1963) and Bluebells & Bittersweet: Gardening with Native American Plants (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1969).
There are several other books written by Bebe that were published in the late 1970s, but they appear to be refreshed versions of her original two books.
I found another reference to Bebe on my own library shelves. In 10,000 Garden Questions Answered by 20 Experts, Edited by Marjorie J. Dietz (copyrights 1944, 1959, and 1974), Bebe answers all the questions about Bulbs, Tubers, and Corms in the 1974 edition.
Based on a few other online searches, I found where Bebe was also quoted in some later books by Des Kennedy and Peter Loewer.
If I spent enough time searching newspapers.com, I could probably come up with more information, mostly about her books and where she spoke. I found one topic that sounded interesting, “Three Months of Tulips.” I’m sure there are many more, if one had the time to find them.
Yes, I did order a “good used” copy of Bluebells & Bittersweet. I love titles with aliteration in them, plus I saw in a newspaper clipping that she took all 175 pictures for the book in her own garden.
I wonder what became of her garden after she died? I guess I’ll never know unless someone who knows sees this blog post and kindly leaves a comment to let me know too.
I’ll wrap this up by noting that Lost Ladies of Garden Writing like Bebe can be elusive—are elusive—but eventually you can find the end of that tape, peel it back, and discover them hiding in their books and the archives of the internet.
Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says
In my library system there are three books by Bebe: Designing with Natural Materials, Bulbs for the Home Gardener, and Wildflower Perennials for Your Garden. I have requested them all. As you know, I don’t live too far from Binghamton. It’s possible her books are still in our system because she is considered a “local author.”
Yes, those are the older versions of her books. If you find out more about her, let me know!
Dee Nash says
I’m pretty sure I have her bulb book. Thank you for your sleuthing.
You’re welcome! I just got her wildflower book to read!
Pam's English Garden says
I love, love this series you are writing. Bebe’s Pennsylvania connections are interesting.
Thanks, Pam! Yes, Bebe’s quite interesting (and still mysterious even though I now know she had children). She’s led me to another LLGW. Stay tuned!
Lynn Byczynski says
I’ve had her Wildflower Perennials for Your Garden since the late 70s. I have moved many times and always donated boxes of books each time, yet this lovely book is still on my shelf. She was so early to the native plants craze! Wouldn’t she be delighted to see how far the rest of the country has come in appreciating our native flora?