A Garden like Jane’s

A Garden like Jane’s

Catherine and Henry among the shrubbery

April is the time of year when I love to work in my garden, and this year, I’ve found myself longing to have a garden more like one of Jane Austen’s. In searching through her novels, I noticed with surprise that flowers are not often mentioned. In fact, there are no bouquets from Col. Brandon or Willoughby in the Sense and Sensibility book. That happens only in the movies.

Instead of flower gardens, Jane Austen writes more about the shrubbery, which would have consisted of gravel paths among bushes and trees. The shrubbery formed a sort of border for the flower and vegetable gardens. They were a private place where Bingley proposed to Jane and where Knightley proposed to Emma. At the time, people felt it was important to keep their feet dry, so gravel paths among the shrubbery were supposedly the healthiest places for walking. In Sense and Sensibility, for example, Marianne becomes violently ill after venturing out beyond the shrubbery at Cleveland.

In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherina wants to speak to Elizabeth privately, but she can’t bring herself to speak favorably of the family’s shrubbery during her late night visit to Elizabeth:

“Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favour me with your company.”

Emma and Harriet pick strawberries in Mr. Knightley’s garden

Gardens often reflected a family’s social status. Hence, a poor family would grow mostly food while a richer family would grow shrubbery and flowers as well as food.

One could judge a family’s wealth by their gardens. Thus, when Elizabeth visits Pemberley, she is awed by the peaches, nectarines, and grapes on Mr. Darcy’s table. Emma is similarly impressed by Mr. Knightley’s fine strawberries and apples. It seems that bouquets of flowers were not so impressive as a bowl of fruit.

Most of the plants in Jane Austen’s garden were not difficult to grow and are still available to buy online and at nurseries. There was also less striving for perfection in a Regency garden. Weeds were often considered wildflowers and grew alongside the rest of the plants.

Here is a list I’ve compiled of plants Jane Austen spoke of in her letters and novels. I’m hoping to grow a few of them this year:

Seeds that can be planted in early spring:

Sweet William (picture from WalMart)

Sweet William (also known as Pinks or Dianthus)

Cornflowers

Columbine

Hollyhocks (from Amazon.com)

Hollyhocks

Peas (from Burpees)

Peas

Other plants:

Strawberries (from Gurney’s)

Strawberries

Potatoes

Tomatoes

Grapevines (from Stark Bro’s)

Grapes

Bushes:

Lilac (also known as syringa)

Raspberry plants (from Pomona Fruits)

Raspberry bush

Currant bush

Gooseberry bush

Mock orange bush (also known as Philadelphus)

Sweet Briar Rose (from High Country Gardens)

Old-fashioned roses (including the Sweet Briar rose)

Trees:

Apple

Peach tree (from Garden Hills Nursery)

Peach

Nectarine

Oak

Beech

Walnut

15 Responses to A Garden like Jane’s

  1. This is the time of the year we longingly look at the plant magazines and long for the lovely flowers, plants and ornamental shrubs. Here in our zone [central KY] we don’t do anything until after Derby. It is just too risky. I loved this excerpt and next time I read a JA classic… I will be more cognizant of the plants and shrubbery that is mentioned. I do remember that Sir Walter wasn’t too keen on someone having access to his shrubbery.

  2. Loved this post and I’m so longing for spring and my garden. We’re in northern Indiana but the greenery have yet to spring forth. Beautiful pictures. Thanks for your post.

    • I agree, Jennifer. I just got back from a visit to Virginia, where the cherry blossoms are in full force. Coming back to a rainy day in Utah was not so fun. At least we have daffodils.

  3. I have hollyhocks, lilacs, currant bushes and what are probably old-fashioned roses around my yard. I’ll have to see if Sweet Williams will grow in my region. Our summer sun is pretty harsh. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing your findings and providing photos of the plants. I am not a huge fan of flowers since I am allergic so I would have much more impressed with the fruit.

Your thoughts are precious!