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Archive for the ‘English Garden’ Category

When visiting Jane Austen’s England today, you can stroll through the gardens at Chawton House and Jane Austen’s House Museum, explore the churches at Steventon and Chawton, and tour the homes and churches where Jane Austen and her relatives lived and worshipped in Bath and other areas of England. But what about Steventon Rectory (or parsonage) where Jane Austen and her family lived for the first 25 years of her life?

At Steventon, you can see the site of the rectory and get an idea of where it used to sit before it was torn down in the 1820s. It’s a beautiful spot in the lovely Hampshire countryside. And there’s more to see than just the fields and lanes where Austen grew up.

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well is the only visible remnant of that house.

If you drive up the tree-canopied lane further, you come to St. Nicholas Church, where Jane’s father preached and where Jane and her family attended church. The church is usually open for visitors who want to look or sit or reflect.

Road to St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo @ Rachel Dodge.

The Rectory Landscape

Though we can’t take a tour of the gardens and property surrounding the Rectory, we do have detailed descriptions available to help us imagine what it once was like.

Deirdre Le Faye paints a descriptive picture of the Rectory garden in Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels: “Mr. Austen’s study was at the back of the house, on the warm southern side, overlooking the walled garden with its sundial, espaliered fruit trees, vegetable and flower beds and grassy walks.” Green meadows stretched beyond it, dotted with livestock.

In A Memoir of Jane Austen, James Edward Austen-Leigh provides this further description of the landscape surrounding the Rectory:

“[T]he neighbourhood had its beauties of rustic lanes and hidden nooks; and Steventon, from the fall of the ground and the abundance of its timber, was one of the prettiest spots in it… It stood ‘in a shallow valley, surrounded by sloping meadows, well sprinkled with elm-trees, at the end of a small village of cottages, each well provided with a garden, scattered about prettily on either side of the road…”

Parsonage, Steventon

Austen-Leigh continues with this: “North of the house, the road from Deane to Popham Lane ran at a sufficient distance from the front to allow a carriage drive, through turf and trees. On the south side, the ground rose gently and was occupied by one of those old-fashioned gardens in which vegetables and flowers are combined, flanked and protected on the east by one of the thatched mud walls common in that country, and overshadowed by fine elms. Along the upper or southern side of the garden ran a terrace of the finest turf…”

Improvements

In Jane Austen’s England, Maggie Lane provides several details about the changes the Austens made during their residency there. She says one of the “constant themes of discussion at Steventon Rectory was ‘improvement.’ Much had been done even before Jane’s birth, but throughout her twenty-five years’ residence there her parents were enthusiastically planting and landscaping their modest grounds.”

The following are some of the grander changes the Austens made to the landscape:

  • They planted a “screen” of chestnuts and spruce fir to “shut out the view of the farm building.”
  • They cut “an imposing carriage ‘sweep’ through the turf to the front door.”
  • The Church Walk – a “broad hedgerow of mixed timber and shrub, carpeted by wild flowers and wide enough to contain within it a winding footpath for the greater shelter and privacy of the family in their frequent walks to the church.”
  • The Elm Walk (or Wood Walk) – a similar hedgerow walk that skirted the meadows and included the “occasional rustic seat” where “weary stollers” could sit or rest.

In Austen-Leigh’s Memoir, he provides further details about the walks and hedgerows:

“But the chief beauty of Steventon consisted in its hedgerows. A hedgerow in that country does not mean a thin formal line of quickset, but an irregular border of copse-wood and timber, often wide enough to contain within it a winding footpath, or a rough cart-track. Under its shelter the earliest primroses, anemones, and wild hyacinths were to be found; sometimes the first bird’s nest; and, now and then, the unwelcome adder. Two such hedgerows radiated, as it were, from the parsonage garden. One, a continuation of the turf terrace, proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows; and was formed into a rustic shrubbery, with occasional seats, entitled ‘The Wood Walk.’ The other ran straight up the hill, under the name of ‘The Church Walk,’ because it led to the parish church…”

Hampshire is still breathtaking; scenes like these give us a sense of the greenery and vegetation Austen might have known.

In October 1800, Jane wrote to Cassandra about the improvements her parents were undertaking at the time: “Our improvements have advanced very well; the bank along the elm wall is sloped down for the reception of thorns and lilacs, and it is settled that the other side of the path is to continue turfed, and to be planted with beech, ash, and larch.”

In November, she wrote again: “Hacker has been here to-day putting in the fruit trees. A new plan has been suggested concerning the plantation of the new inclosure (sic) of the right-hand side of the elm walk: the doubt is whether it would be better to make a little orchard of it by planting apples, pears, and cherries, or whether it should be larch, mountain ash, and acacia.”

Reading these descriptions, it’s easy to see why Jane Austen included “improvements” to the grounds of the estates featured in so many of her novels.

Food and Livestock

However, the Austens didn’t just improve their land to make it more pleasing to the eye or pleasurable for walking. Lane tells us that “the garden at Steventon Rectory was a happy compromise between fashionable ideas and down-to-earth utility – typical of the balanced Austen approach to life.”

In Mrs. Austen’s garden, “vegetables and flowers [were] combined” to balance beauty and provision. One can imagine how the garden must have looked in the spring, summer, and fall, with its tangled profusion of color.

Today, “companion planting” is popular for many gardeners who include flowers among their vegetables.

Beyond the gardens around the Rectory, the Austens kept livestock and grew crops. Mrs. Austen oversaw the poultry-yard and the dairy: “She supervised making all the butter and cheese, baking all the bread and brewing all the beer and wine required by a large household. With the exception of such commodities as tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar, the Austens were virtually self-sufficient in food.” As for Rev. Austen, he grew “oats, barley and wheat, and reared cattle, pigs and sheep” and was able to “not only feed his family, but to sell the surplus.” (Lane)

“All the fruit, vegetables, and herbs consumed by the family were raised here. The Austens’ strawberry fields were famous, and Mrs. Austen was one of the first people in the neighbourhood to grow potatoes.” Taking this all into account, we get a better idea of the gardens and food Jane Austen enjoyed in her youth.

Today, strawberry crops are still grown and produced in Hampshire.

Reading these descriptions of the land surrounding Steventon Rectory can help us better envision what the gardens and fields looked like when Austen was growing up. It’s lovely to try to imagine where she walked and read and thought and imagined; what foods she ate; and what her parents did.

If there ever was a fundraising campaign I could get behind, it would be to someday see a replica (or a scale model) built of the Steventon Rectory and its surrounding gardens. Wouldn’t that be something? For now, I’ll keep dreaming and imagining, which almost just as nice.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the Steventon Rectory and its garden and farm, you can read “Why Was Jane Austen Sent away to School at Seven? An Empirical Look at a Vexing Question” in Persuasions On-Line by Linda Robinson Walker.

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When the world is topsy-turvy and my heart is heavy, many of us find comfort in the beauty of Austen’s novels, in the richness of the movie adaptations, and even in the thought of the lovely Hampshire countryside, secluded and beautiful, tucked away and secure.

The world inside Austen’s novels never changes. The familiar scenes and characters are always there and waiting. Elizabeth and Darcy never fail to spar and flirt in the drawing room in Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Woodhouse continues to eat his porridge and worry comfortably over the weather in Emma. And at the end of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth always sits down to write his letter to Anne Elliot.

Perhaps that’s why many of us (and why so many others throughout history) have found solace and comfort within the pages of Austen’s novels, especially during times of turmoil. And why her novels have been reprinted and translated and enjoyed around the world by so many people for over 200 years.

Familiar Faces

I find similar comfort in the film adaptations. When I sit down to watch a Jane Austen movie (or even have one playing in the background as I do chores), I love knowing just what to expect. I can’t wait to hear the music I love, listen to the accents and voices of characters and actors I adore, and watch the ever-amusing (and always touching) storylines unfold.

Sense and Sensibility, 1995.
Pride and Prejudice, 1995.
Emma, 2009.

The comfort and familiarity of Austen movies keeps us coming back for more, year after year. There are always new adaptations to enjoy and critique (because there’s nothing better than debating this Emma over that Emma with Austen friends).

Familiar Sights

And then there’s the comfort of Jane Austen’s actual world. Although I know Hampshire is a real place with its own fair share of regular, everyday life activities and stormy days, both figurative and literal (such as when Storm Eunice brought down many trees on the Chawton estate and in Mingledown Woods just last month), the England described in Austen’s novels never fades.

Jane Austen’s House Museum, 2022.

I think the charm of the setting in her books is another reason so many of us as lifelong students and fans of Austen love to learn about her life, her family, and the places where she lived and wrote. During the height of the pandemic, we all did what we could to support the historic sites in England and watched for updates whenever possible. We dreamed of the day when we might get to visit those precious sites again or for the first time. Many of us even took virtual tours so we could “be” there.

Benches Along the Way

That’s probably why I was so overjoyed when I saw the good news a few weeks ago that the bench my local JASNA regional group sponsored had been installed in the Chawton House Gardens. In fact, the entire bench project fundraising is now complete! (I know many of you have contributed in various ways to the care and keeping of the historic sites as well.) Here is a snippet of the announcement:

“This month, we are pleased to announce that thanks to the wonderful support of the North American Friends of Chawton House (NAFCH), we have received the final 17 benches donated through the ‘Share a Bench with Jane’ scheme, just in time for our Spring Flowers season.

Photo: Chawton House. Bench, 2022.
Location 22: at the head of the Pride and Prejudice Rose Walk.

If you’d like to see all of the bench locations, you can find them HERE.

As I read through the announcement and looked through the photos, I was comforted. I thought about how peaceful it would be to sit on a bench and enjoy the garden around me. I even thought about how I should install a bench in my own small garden area.

And then I came to this lovely quote that was included in the announcement from Chawton House:

Although the recent storms have caused significant damage to parts of the estate, these latest additions mean that visitors to Chawton House will still be able to rest among the spectacular displays of snowdrops and daffodils as we move into a warmer season.”

Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I made me think. Though storms come in this life, there are benches along the way where we can rest. When the journey is long, it’s important to stop and sit. And though some winter seasons are particularly difficult, spring always comes and bright new flowers always bloom.

Signs of Spring

I’ll leave you with that lovely thought and a few photos of the “snowdrops and daffodils” mentioned above. I hope that each of you is finding comfort in the glimpses of beauty around you, in friends and family, in faith and home, in lending a helping hand to others when you can, and in the enjoyment of Jane Austen.

Photo: Chawton House. Snowdrops, 2022.
Photo: Chawton House. Daffodils, 2022.
Photo: Chawton House. Daffodils and Snowdrops, 2022.

Your turn: What is it about Jane Austen’s novels and life that brings you comfort? Why do you think people continue to turn to her work in life’s difficult seasons?


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional just released and is available now! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Curious readers: Tony Grant (London Calling) has contributed an article about Kew Gardens and his beautiful photographs to go with it. Relax and enjoy this visual feast of gardens, walkways, and flowers.

The Royal Entrance at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

I have been to Kew Gardens, which is only a couple of miles from where I live, on the other side of Richmond upon Thames, many, many times for more than thirty years. When I first visited Kew gardens all those years ago the charge to get through those regal, ornate gates was 1p, a penny, a mere token payment. Kew is a government research centre and a leading authority on plants throughout the world. I think they felt in those far off days that a token payment, just to keep the paths swept, was all that was required. It was and is a government-owned establishment, and so by default, we, the British public, own it, (A little like The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery. Those paintings belong to me you know. So, why shouldn’t I get in free?)

Bumble bee at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

Nowadays, it costs an arm and a leg to get into Kew Gardens. I’ll whisper this; “it’s £13.90 for an adult.” The Government decided, to help finance research, and to develop further public facilities in the gardens, we should all pay to get in. It’s such a beautiful place and such an elemental place that, yes, I’ll pay to get in. No questions asked. I need my dose of Kew. And many, many thousands of others just love to pay to get in too.

Through the glass wall. Image @Tony Grant

Oh, by the way, if you are a mum with a baby and young toddlers in tow, it’s free for the children, totally free. An example of British quirkiness in action. The gardens are a great place to meet for morning coffee in one of the 18th-century orangeries, to have a chat and a place to let the youngsters roam.

The Chinese Pagoda. Image @Tony Grant

My first encounter with Kew, I must admit, involved fellow students, bottles of wine, cans of beer, some very attractive females (my future wife amongst them), and an appreciation of nature and trees gained by lying on my back looking up through leafy branches to a clear blue sunny sky beyond.

Approaching a palm house. Image @Tony Grant

Kew to me means pleasant tree-lined walks, elegant plant houses with their acres of glass and miles of fine wrought iron structural parts painted white and curved and curled into shapely structures. It is a place to look closely at beautiful flowers, contemplating their wondrous shapes and form, and their intense colours, and to take in their seductive perfumes. It is uplifting to observe the majesty of the many varieties of trees, with their beautiful patterned leaves, and their branch and twig systems like fine black lace against changing skies.

Environmental art at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

Kew calms the spirit. It is a meditative place. You can become one with yourself as you walk around or find a place on the grass to sit.

A Zen Garden. Be at peace. Image @Tony Grant

It is vast enough to give you personal space and there is tranquillity amongst the greens and shade.

Museum Number One, Economic Botany. Image @Tony Grant

The Importance of Kew

Kew is an important place. It has a seed bank that holds 10% of all the worlds’ plant species, and contains samples of nearly all endangered species. It also has a herbarium whose collection is being added to virtually daily. At the Joderell Laboratory at Kew, they research the molecular systems, and study the physiology and biochemistry of plants. They study the plants to find natural medicines, specifically for anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs. One department focuses on agricultural research, and there are also botanical illustration and photography departments. Kew is a world leader in conservation and plant technology.

18th century orangery. Image @Tony Grant

Development of Kew

The development of Kew began in the 16th century when Henry VII built a palace at Richmond just along the Thames from Kew. By the 17th century the area round Richmond had become established as a hub of political power for part of the year. Everybody who was part of the court and the government came there in the summer when the king was in residence. Later, James I combined all the royal land in the area, along with former monastic land, with the park that existed at Shene, and created a new hunting ground of 370 acres. Robert Stickles, the architect, built a hunting lodge called Richmond Lodge right in the middle of it.

Temperate House and pagoda. Image @Tony Grant

After Charles I was executed, and The Commonwealth had taken over under Oliver Cromwell, much of the Royal property around Richmond and Kew was sold off. However, those sales were reversed during the reign of William III. Robert Stickles’s Richmond Lodge had survived, and it was extended and turned into a royal palace. The old deer park was reassembled, and the land around Richmond Lodge was turned into formal gardens. So began what we know today as Kew Gardens.

The broad walk.Image @Tony Grant

In the 1690’s, George London created the Broad Avenue, a wide path that goes nearly the full length of the gardens connecting many of the main gardens features. Charles Bridgeman and William Kent, two great 18th century landscape gardeners, primarily created the layout and design of the original gardens.

William Kent

Capability Brown added to the design later. Because of these three great garden designers’ influences and ideas, the garden at Kew were watched and visited, so that new ideas in garden design could be disseminated. Kew was an important influence to 18th century garden design throughout Britain.

Shape, pattern, colour. Image @Tony Grant

This early 18th-century plan was overlaid by later designers, although some of the Capability Brown’s features still persist. It is also likely that some of the older trees might have been planted by Charles Bridgeman. In 1731, King George II’s son, Frederick, Prince of Wale,s leased Kew farm. In 1736 he married Princess Augusta of Saxe Gotha, and together they began some drastic changes at Kew. They commissioned William Kent to redesign Richmond Lodge. He added extensions and covered the façade in white stucco. It became known as The White House.

Monkey puzzle tree. Image @Tony Grant

Frederick and Augusta were garden enthusiasts, and they were helped by the Earl of Bute, who advised them on obtaining plants and landscaping. He later became the tutor to their son, who became George III. Unfortunately, Frederick died in 1751 due to a bout of pleurisy and a burst abscess in his chest. He wasn’t able to fulfil his plans for the gardens. At the time it was said his death was a great loss to the development of gardening in this country. George III, Frederick’s son, succeeded to the throne on the death of his grandfather, George II in 1760.

 

The Dutch House at Kew, Kew Palace. Image @Tony Grant

Capability Brown was commissioned to re-landscape the gardens. The royal family used Richmond Lodge as a summer home. When, Princess Augusta, George’s wife, died, the royal family moved to the White House, whilst The prince of Wales and his brother Prince Frederick lived in the Dutch House, which still exists today and is now called Kew Palace. The royal children were given lessons in botany and botanical illustration. During his bouts of illness, the King lived at Kew.

George III

During the Georgian period Joseph Banks became friends with George III and was the unofficial director of Kew Gardens. He became one of the most influential botanists of his time and began many of the work botanists do today.

Natural art beside an orangery. Image @Tony Grant

Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820)
In 1761he inherited his father’s estate in Lincolnshire to which was attached considerable wealth. His first voyage of discovery was to the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador on the ship HMS Niger. On his return to London in 1767 he was elected a member of the Royal Society at the tender age of 23.

Joseph Banks

When the society proposed an expedition to observe the transit of Venus in the Pacific in 1769, Joseph Banks financed his own expedition with his own team of scientists, including the botanist Daniel Solander and the artist Sydney Parkinson. HMS Endeavor under Captain Cook left England in August 1768.

Inside a green house. Image @Tony Grant

Joseph Banks’ botanical collection formed the basis of the Herbarium at Kew today. His original specimens an still be studied there. Later he mounted expeditions to Iceland, the Hebrides, and the Orkneys. Banks helped organise the first collections at Kew. Specimens arrived from all over the growing British Empire, a typical trait with Empire building.

Water lillies. Image @Tony Grant

The initial impulse were trade and wealth, but so many other things went along in parallel with that:  science, exploration, discovery, art, culture. The British Empire brought religion, government, and even citizenship along with it. You can see examples and parallels with The Roman Empire, the Spanish exploration of South America, and present-day empire building.

Inside the roof of the Palm House. Image @Tony Grant

Kew is a special place, and a visit there brings home the importance of plants, the keystone of our planet and very existence. They do so much for us, and their beauty brings us peace and joy. Is it such a strange thing to do – hug a tree?

Scots pine. Image @Tony Grant

More images:

Before opening. Image @Tony Grant

Environmental art at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

Inside the Palm House. Image @Tony Grant

Side entrance. Image @Tony Grant

Stairs inside the Palm House. Image @Tony Grant

Water tower. Image @Tony Grant

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Historic fruit trees were discovered in a National Trust garden in Ickworth House estate, Suffolk.

A notebook packed with unique garden history has been discovered in a filing cabinet in a gardener’s shed at the National Trust’s Ickworth estate in Suffolk. The notebook documents more than 200 varieties of local plum, gage, pear and apple trees, all planted at Ickworth from 1898 to 1930. Some of these varieties, which include Blickling, King of the Pippin, Lady Ludeley, Hoary Morning and Court of Wick, were previously unknown to Ickworth staff. – Country Life

Ickworth garden wall

Re-planting of Ickworth’s historic wall fruit (fruit trees trained against the garden walls) will start in autumn 2010 when research is complete. – History Times.com

Ickworth silver garden

Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, with the artist's daughter Julie as subject

Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun painted three original and authenticated self-portraits, one of which hangs in Ickworth.

Hoary Morning apple

More on the topic:

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When I took a peek at Marie-Antoinette’s Gossip Guide I was reminded of the eclectic surprise that awaited me on the grounds of Versailles during a visit a couple of years ago – Marie-Antoinette’s English garden and  Petit Hameau. This picturesque,  thatched-roofed village, inspired by Hubert Robert’s paintings, was created by palace architect Richard Mique in 1783 – 1785. One approaches the tiny hamlet through a naturalized English style landscape filled with follies and grottoes, and that opens up to a Grand Lac in the center of an enchanting faux village.

‘Everyone had heard of her private retreat at Trianon, and of the little hamlet she was having her architect construct there. It seemed a perverse extravagance, for the Queen to create a village for her own amusement while in many parts of France real peasants in real villages were in dire want. In her make-believe village stood eight small thatch-roofed cottages, their plaster walls cleverly painted with cracks to make them look weathered, their gardens full of vegetables and fruit trees. Nearby were barns, a poultry yard, and a mill. A farmer named Valy was brought in to live in the farmhouse and look after the livestock. Cows were pastured in a small field, and milked into porcelain tubs in an exquisite little dairy. The Queen had her own cows, named Brunette and Blanchette, and white goats and white lambs, rabbits and cooing pigeons and clucking hens. There was a note of pathos at the miniature hamlet, amid the abundant charm; it represented an almost childlike vision of a simpler, happier world. But the Queen’s critics saw nothing of this. To them the village was one more in a long list of frivolous purchases. They called it “Little Vienna,” and made fun of Antoinette indulging in her rustic pleasures.’ (C Erickson, To the scaffold the life of Marie Antoinette Robson Books 2000 p. 163)

Marie liked to dress simply in this setting, pretending to live a rustic lifestyle.


The Temple of Love, a folly inspired by antiquity, sits on an artificial island.

One passes a rustic grotto as one walks towards the small hamlet.


A violent storm in 1999 felled scores of ancient trees planted in Marie-Antoinette’s day, including a tulip tree from my home state Virginia, but many like this beautiful specimen survived.


Twelve cottages once encircled the lake. I find it simply amazing that during the French Revolution the citizenry did not overrun these symbols of a rich woman’s fantasy of the simple life and raze it, as it sat quite near the Village of Versailles, which is now part of the outskirts of Paris.


Marie Antoinette had her own tiny “play” house, which was connected to the billiard room by a wooden gallery. She and her female friends liked to dress as shepherdesses or milk maids while they occupied this pretend world. Flower pots were placed on the stairs,as in the photo. The barn was used as a ballroom, but it has since been demolished. Today one can still visit the mill (with its waterwheel), the guard’s room, the dovecote, and the kitchen.

More links about this topic:

First Image from the Guide Book: Marie-Antoinette’s Estate

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