Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener by Marta McDowell, is part biography, part gardening manual interspersed with Dickinson’s poems that relate to flowers and gardening and nature. There are no color photos, though there are a few old black-and-white ones and some line drawings of various flowers.
I learned a few things like, Emily Dickinson had red hair. Did you know this? I was completely surprised. I also assumed from black-and-white photos that she had dark brown or chestnut colored hair. But she was a redhead! Dickinson also attended Amherst Academy for a year, which would have been like high school, where she studied botany, among other things.
As part of her study of botany, Dickinson began an herbarium, a book in which she carefully mounted pressed and preserved plants and flowers. Even after she left school she continued to add to her herbarium. Dickinson’s is 66 pages and bound in leather with a green fabric cover embossed in a floral pattern and contains over 400 plant specimens. Harvard has digitized Dickinson’s herbarium so we can all page through it virtually.
After Dickinson’s younger sister, Vinnie, died, The Homestead passed out of family hands. The new owners grassed over most of Dickinson’s garden, added their own terraces and formal flower beds, and installed a tennis court. The Homestead was also home to a large variety of trees thanks to Dickinson’s father and brother. But in 1938 there was a big hurricane that ripped out over 100 trees on the property.
The Homestead and The Evergreens, the house Dickinson’s father built next door for her brother and his wife, are now owned by Amherst College. Work is slowly, slowly being done to restore the gardens. We don’t know exactly what they looked like, but from letters and Dickinson’s herbarium as well as other clues, researchers have been able to figure out a good many of the plants that grew there.
For all you gardeners out there, there is a list of resources at the back of the book where you can get the plants Dickinson had in her garden to grow in your own. One thing Dickinson had was a peony hedge. Now, I have a spot along my property line in my backyard where I had been wondering what a row of peonies would look like but I wasn’t sure. Apparently a peony hedge is lovely so now I am thinking I will go ahead and have my own little peony hedge. Peonies are best planted in the fall so I will have to do some shopping this summer and figure out colors, varieties and how many I should get. The pink peony in my front yard is loaded with buds right now that should be bursting open in the next few days.
Since I have now managed to switch to talking about my garden, here are some photos of what is in bloom this week:
These are bearded iris but I don’t remember the variety. I have it written down somewhere. I hope. I planted these about three or four years ago and this is only the second time they have bloomed. I forgot how pretty they are!
This is spiderwort. It is native to my area. I planted it two years ago and this year it has come into its own. I like its light yellowy-green foliage. It makes a nice contrast to the darker green plants that are nearby.
There are actually two different plants here. In the foreground with the smaller flowers is creeping baby’s breath. Behind it with the bigger flowers is snow-in-summer. I don’t know what possessed me to plant two white-flowered low growers right next to each other like that but I kind of like it.
Finishing up but not in the photos are Jacob’s ladder, columbine, and prairie smoke. Just starting to bloom are the roses. When they really get going I’ll snap a picture.