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Posts Tagged ‘In the garden with Jane Austen’

Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“You cannot imagine—it is not in Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the Orchard.”—Jane Austen to Cassandra, May 31, 1811

“One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”—Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park

In the Garden With Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson, a delightful view of English gardens

Jane Austen’s letters and novels are full of references to gardens of one sort or another. The theme of JASNA’s AGM in Victoria, Canada this year is Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens. Following this garden theme, this summer might be a great time to read Kim Wilson’s book, In the Garden with Jane Austen.

 

The lovely photos throughout the book alone are worth the price. We get to see lovely estates and their grounds and gardens as well as many flowers, clearly labeled.

 

Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, as well as Tea with Jane Austen and At Home with Jane Austen.

Interview with Kim Wilson

I asked the author, Kim Wilson, to share some of her thoughts with us.

What gave you the idea to write this book?

As I read Jane Austen’s novels, I couldn’t help noticing that the characters we love appreciate nature and the outdoors and the characters we love to hate do not. The characters of Mansfield Park are perfect examples of this. Fanny Price loves nature to the depths of her soul and is inspired by nature poetry, as Jane Austen herself was. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is carelessly indifferent to the beauties of nature, which should be enough to warn us about her dubious moral views. And there are so many references to landscape and gardens in the novels and in Austen’s letters that it made me curious about the gardens she might have encountered that could have inspired her writing. What, for example, was so special about a Regency shrubbery? Austen’s heroines often fling themselves into the shrubbery whenever they get the least bit emotional, and I knew I had to find out why. The next thing you know I was mapping out a tour of the gardens belonging to the Austen family and their friends. It’s always wonderful to have the excuse to see more of Jane Austen’s world!

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

I hope my research gives my readers a better appreciation of Jane Austen’s emotional connection to gardens and the possible inspirations for the outdoor scenes in her works.

What were the hardest and best parts of researching this book?

The saddest thing about researching the book was visiting the sites where the gardens no longer exist, such as the Austen family’s garden at Steventon Parsonage, or Jane Austen’s brother Henry’s garden in Hans Place in London that she had called “quite a Love.” But of course touring the existing sites, such as the beautiful gardens at Jane Austen’s House Museum and at her brother Edward’s Chawton House (both in Chawton, Hampshire) completely made up for it. To sit in the same gardens where Jane Austen herself sat “and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.”

A Variety of Gardens

The first chapter explores Cottage Gardens, focusing, of course, on Chawton Cottage where Austen lived. We also learn about laborers’ cottage gardens, which provided much-needed food, and farm and parsonage gardens, like those of Robert Martin and Mr. Collins. The opposite end of the scale was the cottage ornée of the rich, with much fancier gardens. Such “cottages” are mentioned in Sanditon and Sense and Sensibility. The outbuildings found in a country garden get a mention as well, ranging from the brewhouse to the privy.

Next come “Mansion and Manor House Gardens,” the gardens of great estates like Pemberley. Godmersham, Chawton House, and Chatsworth are good examples. Wilson describes how estates like Sotherton (Mansfield Park) were being “improved” by Repton and others to match current fashions in landscaping. Such estates offered pleasure grounds, flower gardens, shrubberies, and wildernesses. Wilson also explores the fads for temples, Gothic seats, grottoes, and hermitages, as well as conservatories and hothouses.

“City Gardens” provided refreshment in the midst of town. Jane hoped for a house with a garden in Bath. The Georgian Garden in Bath, which I have visited, recreates a lovely city garden of Austen’s era. London is apparently full of hidden “garden squares,” which are thrown open to the public one weekend a year (June 10 and 11, 2023, I just looked it up!). The chapter also explores the role of the job gardener, who was paid by the job, though he sometime stole valuable plants. Again we find out where the privy might be hidden in the garden. Flowers also had a role as party decorations and hat trim, as Austen mentions.

“Public Gardens and Parks” explores gardens like London’s Kensington Gardens and Bath’s Sydney Gardens, across the street from a house where Jane’s family lived. We also see views of Box Hill and Netley Abbey and learn about tours of the picturesque, epitomized by The Tour of Dr. Syntax.

The final chapter provides details on “Re-Creating Jane Austen’s Garden,” including some of Jane’s favorite flowers.

The paperback version of In the Garden with Jane Austen, with a nice sturdy cover.

I see this book as a treasure trove for:

  • Jane Austen fans, of course. In each chapter, Wilson gives us connections with Austen and her novels and letters. For example, we find out that when General Tilney of Northanger Abbey said his pinery “had yielded only one hundred” pineapples, he was boasting of his wealth, since pineapples were very expensive, selling for a guinea apiece or more. (Wilson says this is equivalent to about $100 or £50 each today.)
  • History buffs who will learn things like why people hired hermits to live in their gardens, why shrubberies had gravel paths, and what crimes dishonest gardeners committed. Fun historical recipes are included for things like “Bee’s Wax Lip-Salve” and “Pot-Pourri.”
  • Writers of Regency fiction and Jane Austen Fan Fiction who want to include gardens in their stories. The book will give them lists of appropriate flowers with some pictures, and information about the gardens and their designs. (She doesn’t tell you when different flowers bloom in England, though, so you’ll have to look that up elsewhere.)
  • Gardeners who want to create their own Jane Austen-style garden, or who just enjoy reading about different types of gardens and plants. Wilson gives ideas for recreating a cottage garden, flower border, villa or small mansion house garden, herb garden, great estate garden, and town or city garden. She includes lists of flowers and herbs from real English gardens including those at Chawton Cottage and nearby Gilbert White’s House, along with diagrams of how those gardens are laid out. She even tells you how to find seeds for authentic “heirloom” plants.
  • Tourists (including armchair tourists) who want to visit Austen-style gardens in England. I count 25 gardens Wilson recommends visiting. For each, she shows a lovely picture and gives contact information. She tells readers what to see and what tours are available. (Be sure to check websites for current information, of course.) She includes obvious places, like Chawton Cottage and Stoneleigh Abbey, and unfamiliar ones I’d love to see, like Houghton Lodge and The Royal Crescent Hotel. The end of the book also lists “Gardens Featured in Jane Austen Film Adaptations.” So you can explore those as well, either in person, if you have enough time and money, or online.
  • Any lovers of beautiful gardens and flowers will enjoy the book, as it’s a delight to peruse!

Kim Wilson just informed me that In the Garden with Jane Austen is currently out of print, though you can still find copies at Jane Austen Books, online, or possibly through your library. She plans to work on a new edition next spring, traveling to England for new photos and information. So if you want to wait 18 months to a year, you can get the new edition, if you prefer.

Enjoy the refreshment of In the Garden with Jane Austen.

More about Kim Wilson

Kim Wilson is a writer, speaker, tea lover, gardening enthusiast, food historian, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She is the award-winning author of At Home with Jane Austen, Tea with Jane Austen, and In the Garden with Jane Austen. A popular speaker, Kim gives entertaining talks to audiences nationwide. She has been a featured lecturer for the Royal Oak Foundation (the American partner of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Road Scholar, and was the keynote speaker for the 2020 Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival. She is currently writing Entertaining Mr. Darcy, and Celebrating Jane Austen’s Birthday for the series Celebrating the Year with Jane Austen with coauthor Jo Ann Staples.

Her other books:

Tea with Jane Austen

“In this delightful book Kim Wilson shares the secrets of tea drinking in Regency England, including a whole batch of recipes to help recreate some memorable occasions. . . . Kim Wilson has assembled a collection of anecdotes, quotations, verses and recipes, charmingly illustrated with largely contemporary engravings and line drawings, to provide an exhaustive and uplifting history of England’s favourite brew.” Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine

At Home with Jane Austen

“Wilson once again leads the reader through a specific aspect of Austen’s life– in this case, the physical spaces which she lived in or visited. . . . Quotes from Austen’s letters convey the day-to-day experience of living in these places, and examples from her work demonstrate how often these experiences found their way into the novels. . . . even casual fans should enjoy following in the beloved author’s footsteps.”Publishers Weekly

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, which should be available this fall.

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Instead of commemorating Jane Austen’s death at 41 on July 18, 1817, I would like to celebrate her life with a book giveaway of In the Garden With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson. It is a slim hard-back book filled with color photographs. In it Kim discusses the gardens that Jane Austen would have known and visited.

This contest will end on July 18th at midnight, EST. The winner will be chosen by random number generator.

To leave a comment, please let me know which flower you would leave behind at her grave. Update because of a confusion: A comment enters you into the contest. CONTEST CLOSED: Congratulations Eileen Landau! Your comment about a tussie-mussie was chosen by Random.org

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