All around the world there are wonderful literary gardens for us to visit. From the United Kingdom to the USA and Australia to the Crimean Peninsula, authors like the Brontes and Henry James, poets like Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson and playwrights like Chekhov have become deeply involved in garden making, many of them building, planting and maintaining them with their own hands.
"Writers words and their gardens are often intertwined, each inspiring the other. Many of these homes and gardens are now places of pilgrimage for fans from around the world, keen to dig deeper into the life of a favourite writer."
Literary Gardens Around the World
Why are there so many open gardens that are connected with authors, playwrights and poets?
Writers worked from home, just like most creatives still do today. They stayed very much in their home environment for a large part of their lives, unlike politicians, or lawyers or tradespeople who were away from home for most of the day. Whether these writers were working where they could see the garden from a window, like Emily Dickinson, or making a separate studio outside the house like Virginia Woolf did at Monks House, the home and garden becomes their whole world.
Writers are also, by the nature of their work, very keen observers of life, whether it’s people or the natural world around them. The natural world is usually observed while walking through it, but gardens are observed by sitting in them. So it’s a different much quieter, slower and more detailed type of observation that can come from seeing the same scene day after day and noticing the most minute of changes, especially seasonal change.
Gardens contain many sources of inspiration, for words, for art and for music – the way light shines through a leaf, how insect pollinators are busy among the flowers or how colours interact. They are intimately connected with emotion. While they can elicit feelings of joy and wonder, as any true gardener knows, they can also bring on despair and melancholy.
Visiting literary gardens
Many gardens associated with literary figures are not spectacular gardens in themselves, with a few notable exceptions like Abbotsford and The Mount. They were not made to be grand gardens but were made for the writer’s own pleasure, for places to relax with visiting friends, as places of solace and respite for those suffering either physical or mental ill-health.
If you go to these gardens expecting to be ‘wowed’, then you may well be disappointed, although several are being slowly and lovingly restored by volunteer and charitable trusts with limited budgets.
The point of going to a literary garden is not how meticulously they are maintained or how well they are designed but what they reveal about the writer – his or her passions, preferences and inspirations.
Literary Gardens in the United Kingdom
The UK’s rich gardening culture and enlightened attitude to preservation of notable historical sites means that there are many gardens to see, connected with some of the best loved British authors.
Henry James and EF Benson and Rumer Godden – Lamb House, Rye, Sussex
Henry James (1890s-1916)
Although he was not a gardener himself in the physical sense, James loved his garden and worked where he could overlook it from his ‘Garden Room’ (destroyed by a bomb in WW2). James has a daffodil named after him and entered Lamb House vegetables and flowers in the local show.
“I am hopeless about the garden, which I don’t know what to do with and shall never, never know – I am densely ignorant.” Henry James
After the First World War, Lamb House became the home of EF Benson, who wrote the Mapp and Lucia series of novels where Lamb House is called ‘Mallards’. Lamb House was used for filming the TV series starring Miranda Richardson and Anna Chancellor
In the late 1960s, Lamb House was then was lived in by Rumer Godden who wrote the beautiful children’s book, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower
William Wordsworth – Dove Cottage and Rydal House
Wordsworth was a poet whose work concerned the human relationship to nature. He was also an early environmentalist, championing native flora and creating wildlife habitat.
Dove Cottage (1799-1808)
Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere from 1799 to 1808 and it was while living there that he went on that walk with his sister Dorothy, writing the first draft of his famous poem about the “host of golden daffodils” they saw.
The garden at Dove Cottage today is a combination of a productive garden growing the staples of the time such as beans, radishes and turnips, and a romantic, semi-wild garden which was very much Wordsworth’s taste at the time. It’s a pretty cottage garden running up the hill behind the house with winding gravel paths through garden beds and areas of lawn. In the sunnier parts there’s fragrant honeysuckle and climbing roses plus the obligatory spring daffodils and in the moist and shady areas there’s lots of ferns, mosses, primroses and hellebores.
Rydal Mount (1813-1850), Cumbria, Lakes District
For more space for his growing family, Wordsworth eventually moved to Rydal Mount in 1813 and he rented it until his death in 1850. It was finally bought by his great great granddaughter in 1969 and has been open to the public since 1970.
It was here that Wordsworth really began his serious garden making, terracing the steep slope above Rydal Water with stone walls and planting many trees, several of which still survive. Bishop Wordsworth, the poet’s nephew described scenes from the garden immediately after Wordsworth’s death, saying that every terrace walk and allee spoke of the poet’s ‘loving care’.
Lovely, romantic-style garden that blends into the surrounding countryside. Several higher points have views down to Lake Windemere and Rydal Water.
Wordsworth worked in the garden himself and built the stone steps below the house, worked on draining damp areas, building retaining walls and creating water features. He planted several of the larger trees you can still see today such as fir trees and fern-leafed beech trees.
He liked to walk about the garden as he composed his poetry, or sit in his rustic summerhouse and then he would go inside and dictate his lines to his wife Mary or his daughter Dora. He was very fond of flowering shrubs like rhododendron and laburnum and also wildflowers such as primroses, geraniums as well as ferns and mosses.
The garden was meticulously documented after Wordsworth’s death so it’s kept very much as he liked it and it’s very well-maintained. In a letter he described the plantings of the sloping terrace:
“on the right side is shaded by laburnums, Portugal laurel, mountain ash, and fine walnut trees, and cherries; on the left it is flanked by a low stone wall, coped with rude slates, and covered with lichens, mosses and wild flowers. The fern waves on the walls, and at its base grows the wild strawberry and foxglove.”
Wordsworth preferred gardens with “lawn, and trees carefully planted so as not to obscure the view”. Today some of the fern-leaf beech trees and firs that he planted still grow in the garden and these have been supplemented with maple, cryptomeria, sycamore and rowan.
After his beloved daughter Dora’s death in 1847, Wordsworth and his wife Mary planted a field with hundreds of daffodils in her memory so it’s worth going in early spring to visit Dora’s Field and see them ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’.
Although there is another more practical side to Dora’s Field. The Wordsworth’s were tenants of Lady Anne le Fleming and in 1825 she told that she wanted them to move as she wanted one of her relatives to live at Rydal Mount. Wordsworth immediately purchased a field below the house and said he would build a house there which would block views from Rydal Mount, which of course meant that nobody would want to live there. He later gave the field to his daughter Dora and then planted the daffodils there when she died in 1847.
In Australia there is another Rydal in Central-West NSW which hosts a wonderful daffodil festival over 2 weekends each September where there are hosts of golden daffodils at every turn.
Brontë sisters – Haworth Parsonage, Yorkshire
Maintained as a very pretty family garden, bordering the churchyard where both Charlotte and Emily are buried.
Gardens and plants feature strongly in both Charlotte and Emily’s novels and Charlotte is said to have disapproved of ‘highly cultivated’ gardens preferring things a little on the unkempt and wild side. The garden is a square area of lawn surrounded by an interesting jumble of flowering perennials and hardy shrubs.
Sir Walter Scott – Abbotsford, Scotland
From 1811 to 1832 Sir Walter Scott lived in this Scottish baronial style mansion house surrounded by woodland gardens and views down to the Tweed River.
The 120 acre woodland estate area featured lots of trees, many of which Sir Walter Scott planted, such as Scotch pines, sycamores, oaks and maples and beech trees.
“After breakfast I went out, the day being delightful—warm, yet cooled with a gentle breeze, all around delicious; the rich luxuriant green refreshing to the eye, soft to the tread, and perfume to the smell. Wandered about and looked at my plantations.”
There are three main garden rooms, originally quite plant-filled in the Regency style but now they have the more open lawns of the Victorian fashion, as changed by his granddaughter
The South Court is the main entrance garden and is a picturesque romantic garden of lawns, trailing ivy over pseudo gothic-style monastic cloister ruins, and clipped topiary. It’s a bit like a ‘who’s who’ as there are lots of historical and literary references in the details in this garden.
The second garden is a sunken garden now called the Morris Garden, named for the statue of a character in Rob Roy. In Scott’s time this garden was scented flower garden but is now more open lawn and a statue of Morris. There are flowering peonies in June.
The third garden is the 1 acre walled garden, accessed through an archway from the Morris Garden – Today it is a combination of kitchen garden, including a glasshouse designed by Scott as a jousting pavilion, like something from ‘Ivanhoe’. Now filled with some organically grown heritage varieties of vegetables and fruit but also spectacular perennial borders of spring and summer flowering perennials.
Scott spent a lot of money here trying to create ‘hot walls’ with brick-faced walls heated by stove flues so he could grow plants not hardy in the cold Scottish climate.
You can stay at Abbotsford in the Hope Scott wing in one of its 7 very fancy rooms for £1255 a night or £3,335.00 for the week.
Jane Austen – Chawton House, Chawton, Hampshire
This is a recreated garden, imagined a simple cottage typical of the period when Austen lived at Chawton from 1809 until her death in 1817.
The garden features traditional species plants and Hampshire wildflowers and has a herb border, perennial beds, shrubbery surrounded by a beech hedge and rose garden with old variety roses. There are lawn areas for picnics.
Thomas Hardy – Thomas Hardy’s Cottage and Garden, Bockhampton near Dorchester, Dorset
Thomas Hardy’s Cottage and garden is owned and managed by the UK National Trust
Covering one third of an acre around a quaint thatched cottage, this is where Hardy was born and where he still lived when he wrote ‘Far From the Madding Crowd‘ and ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, two of his most beautiful bucolic novels. The garden features a pretty cottage-style garden with gravel paths, orchard and meadow.
Hardy was born here in 1840 and use to also walk every day through the nearby 26 hectares of mixed woodland and heath in Thorncombe Woods, Black Heath and Rushy Pond.
Virginia Woolf – ‘Monk’s House’ – Rodmell, Sussex
Monk’s House is an 18th century cottage bought by the Woolf’s in 1919 for
“the shape and fertility and wildness of the garden”.
They extended the house and the surrounding garden was developed by Virginia and Leonard Woolf during the 1920s and 30s. Monk’s House became a gathering place for many famous writers collectively known as the ‘Bloomsbury Group’ such as TS Eliiot, EM Forster, Vita Sackville West from nearby Sissinghurst and the economist Maynard Keynes.
Leonard continued to live at Monk’s House after Virginia’s suicide in 1941 until his death in 1969. Their ashes are buried in the garden.
Leonard Woolf was the real gardener of the two, becoming an accomplished and professional horticulturist, including founding the Rodmell Horticultural Society in 1941.
But Virginia drew emotional sustenance and inspiration from writing in the garden. Her first writing room was a converted garden tool shed and then, when money came in from her writing, she built a writing lodge surrounded by the orchard at the bottom of the garden. It became a place of sanctuary for her and she wrote many of her most famous novels here, such as ‘Mrs Dalloway’, ‘To the Lighthouse’ and ‘Between the Acts’.
The garden also played a part in her working through periods of depression and illness. When she was too unwell to work in the writing lodge, she would have a chair set up in her bedroom from where she could still view the garden. In a letter to a friend she said:
“I sleep and dress in full view of the garden”
Brick paths wind through an Italian garden, flower-filled terraces, millstone terrace, yew hedges, old roses, a dew pond, large lawn areas where the Woolfs liked to play lawn bowls with their friends, and an orchard with beehives. It’s maintained as a cottage-style garden, once described by Virginia as ‘variegated chintz’ .
Read also: ‘Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House’ by Caroline Zoob, photography by Caroline Arber, (Jacqui Small)
You can stay in a studio cottage in the garden minimum 3 night stay for £236-510.
George Bernard Shaw – ‘Shaw’s Corner’, Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire
Shaw’s Corner in Hertfordshire where he lived for more than 40 years, from 1906. The Arts and Crafts style house is surrounded by a pretty garden which Shaw extended in 1923, buying an extra strip of land.
The gardens features flowering shrubs around the house, a long mown path flanked by a perennial border, mature trees and large lawns.
Shaw’s small timber ‘writer’s hut’ which he called ‘London’ is at the bottom of the garden and where he wrote many of his major works such as ‘Pygmalion‘, and it is worth seeing just for itself. The hut rotates on a central pole axis and castors so that Shaw could always have sunshine and a change of view. Shaw’s ashes are buried in the garden.
Beatrix Potter – Hill Top, Sawrey, Cumbria (Lakes District)
The 17th century farmhouse was bought by Beatrix Potter in 1905 after her success with The Tale of Peter Rabbit, although she visited rather than lived there, preferring the larger and more comfortable Castle Farm which she bought on the opposite hill.
However Hill Top and its garden were a source of inspiration as can be seen in the many sketches she made here.
Hill Top is surrounded by a charming cottage garden. As you would expect, it is not a manicured garden but one of winding paths through a riot of flowers through the spring and summer, including lupins, alchemilla, peonies, sweet peas, lavender, roses and foxgloves. A large white wisteria covers the front of the cottage.
And of course, there is a large vegetable garden, with rows of onions, beans and potatoes and a big rhubarb patch, complete with Jemima Puddleduck’s egg (and probably Farmer McGregor just around the corner).
Victor Hugo – Hauteville House, Guernsey
Hugo arrived on Guernsey in 1855 and spent the following 15 years there at Hauteville House in St Peter Port while exiled from France. It was here that he published some of his best known works, including ‘Les Misérables‘, ‘William Shakespeare‘ and ‘Les Travailleurs de la mer‘.
Hauteville House has spectacular views down to the sea and Hugo renovated it in a curious almost medieval style, filling it with bric-a-brac, tapestries and second-hand furniture he collected around Guernsey.
The terraced hillside gardens surrounding Hauteville House have been restored by the City of Paris and include flower gardens, lawns, an interesting path of turf-surrounded stone paving slabs, a small orchard, vegetable garden, pond and fountain and an oak called the ‘United State of Europe’. This tree was planted in 1870 by Hugo who predicted that by the time it was mature, there would be a ‘United States of Europe’, sharing a common governance and currency.
Hugo wrote in Les Misérables:
“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in – what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”
Literary Gardens in France
George Sand – Chateau de Nohant, Nohant-Vic (3 hour drive south of Paris)
Family home of French writer George Sand (real name Aurore Dudevant née Dupin) who lived both in Paris and in Nohant from 1837 to 1876, mainly during the summer season. Here she was visited by many of the outstanding creatives of her day, including Balzac, Flaubert, Delacroix, Chopin and Liszt. Sand is buried between the garden and the adjacent church. Delacroix painted her garden in the 1840s.
Sand was an unconventional woman for her day, leaving her husband Casimir Dudevant in 1830 at Nohant to go to Paris to live with her lover Jules Sandeau. She then had to win back her family home in a lawsuit.
The house is surrounded by 6 hectares of English-style landscaped gardens, with spectacular mature trees, a flower filled parterre, meadow garden and perennials and rose-covered arches. It is classified as one of the Notable Gardens of France.
Edith Wharton – Castel Sainte-Claire, Hyères, Var
American novelist Edith Wharton lived mostly in France from 1911 when she left her home at The Mount in Lenox, USA. She bought Castel Sainte-Claire on the hill above the French Riviera resort town of Hyères in 1925 to use as her summer country home until her death in 1937.
Wharton immediately began to create a new garden in the dry, subtropical climate which meant she could expand her planting palette to include many plants like succulents, cacti, palms and tender perennials. The garden is a series of terraces surrounding the castellated stone villa built during the 1820s.
Feature plants include dry-heat lovers like cypress, salvia, cotton lavender, lantana, palms, aloes, yucca, and gazania.
Wharton said of her French garden:
“My garden is a true delight. I have never seen a place that is more inviting, more golden, more covered in flowers and more sheltered from the wind.”
Literary Gardens in Germany
Bertolt Brecht – Brecht Weigel Haus, Buckow (50km east of Berlin)
This simple garden surrounding a typical white-washed country Gärtnerhaus (Garden House), also called the ‘Iron Villa’ and used by Brecht as a writing studio, is in the grounds of the summer residence of Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel used from 1952 to 1956. It became his ‘sphere of isolation’.
The garden runs down through mown meadow to the nearby lake (Schermützelsee) and is surrounded by forest. During the year, particularly in the summer months there are often Brecht ‘garden parties’ with guided walks, musical recitals, readings and exhibitions. There is a lovely view of the garden through the Iron Villa’s large windows and the garden has a number of copper plaques with poems from Brecht’s Buckower Elegies written in 1953.
Hermann Hesse – Gaienhofen, Lake Constance
Hesse lived at Gaienhofen for only 5 years from 1907 to 1912 but while he was there laid out and planted a large productive garden with an orchard, vines, vegetable garden and berry garden, creating a self-sufficient garden for the family but also including decorative flower beds and perennial borders. During his time at Gaienhofen he wrote ‘Beneath the Wheel‘ and ‘Gertrude‘.
The Arts and Crafts style garden has been reconstructed using Hesse’s own plans and include many of the flowers he mentions in his letters, such as dahlias, iris, roses, sunflowers, hollyhocks and zinnia, with gardens surrounded by a clipped beech hedge, and plant allees (including one entirely of sunflowers). Hesse also subscribed to the early ecological land movement, rejecting the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides instead using home-made compost and recycling garden nutrients.
Disturbed by the rise of fascism, Hesse left Germany and went to live in Switzerland before WW2.
Literary Gardens in Australia
May Gibbs – ‘Nutcote’, Neutral Bay in Sydney, NSW
Nutcote was designed for May Gibbs and her husband James Ossilli Kelly by BJ Waterhouse. It was finished in 1925 and Gibbs lived there for the following 44 years until her death in 1969.
The house is an unusual style, with many small rooms having large arched windows of dark jarrah timber and spectacular views out to the harbour through a frame of mature eucalypts and other local trees.
The garden is maintained to reflect the many paintings May Gibbs made of it during her lifetime, as well her descriptions in diaries and letters. It’s a long narrow block that runs down to Sydney Harbour. Out the front it’s a mainly cottage-style garden with lots of flowering and fragrant shrubs, roses, bulbs and perennials. A hedge has been clipped into the form of a caterpillar complete with large goggly eyes, which looks a little kitsch to adults but is adored by children and that seems appropriate at Nutcote.
The rear garden below the house is mainly sandstone walls and massed, easy-care perennials like agapanthus, plus tree ferns, jacarandas.
There are several statues in the garden some of which illustrate scenes from The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (written in 1918), such as the abduction of Little Ragged Blossom by the Big Bad Banksia Man – which terrified every child reading it until, to our great relief, Ragged Blossom is saved by the valiant Mr Lizard. Other statues celebrate ‘Bib and Bub’ from her well-known and long-running comic strip as well one of as Gibbs’ beloved Scotty dogs.
Nutcote was narrowly saved from developers in the late 1980s
Gibbs said in an interview in 1968:
“‘Nutcote’ is a dear little place with a long, long garden. I used to walk around the Gardens, weeding it and loving it, and with a book in my pocket and a pencil and that’s where I got my best ideas, out in the open, gardening.“
Nutcote is open most days and is also a popular venue for weddings and children’s parties.
Norman Lindsay – Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum, Faulconbridge NSW
Writer, cartoonist and prolific artist Norman Lindsay and his wife Rose bought a dilapidated 4 room cottage in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in 1912 and proceeded to renovate and extend it until Lindsay’s death in 1969.
Lindsay’s children’s book The Magic Pudding is one of Australia’s best-loved children’s classics but he also wrote many others, including A Curate In Bohemia, The Cousin from Fiji, Redheap, Saturdee, and Halfway to Anywhere.
The house is now one of pleasing art deco proportions, filled with many examples of Lindsay’s humorous and sensuous works. He also took a keen interest in the surrounding garden, saying that provided you had two labourers to help, the execution of landscape ideas was a perfect outdoor recreation. Many of his paintings and drawings feature garden scenes as a backdrop.
He designed the garden layout and its inclusions: a swimming pool, ponds and fountains, steps and walls, urns and pots, and the long vine-covered arbor and he also chose the plants. He created many sculptures for the garden and you can see 14 of them, some recast in bronze, in the garden today. They are often both sensual and mythical, featuring satyrs, sphinxes and sirens as well as naiads and nymphs.
As well as its elegant built features, the garden has mature trees, a magnificent spring-flowering wisteria on the long arbor, and flowering shrubs and perennials such as hydrangeas, rhododendrons, iris, poppies, pelargoniums and roses. The garden is surrounded by towering eucalypts, creating a beautiful bushland setting. Significant trees in the garden include conifers, coral tree, Japanese spindle tree and bull bay magnolia.
Joan Lindsay – Mulberry Hill, Langwarrin South, Victoria
Joan Lindsay is known for her extraordinary book Picnic at Hanging Rock, written in 1967, which was also made into one of Australia’s best known movies from the 1970s. It’s unusual ‘faction’ style of writing made many believe that the gothic tale of a group of school girls mysteriously disappearing on a school picnic in 1900 at the eerie natural landform of Hanging Rock was true. Lindsay also wrote essays, plays, newspaper articles and reviews and was also an artist.
Lady Joan Lindsay lived with her husband artist Sir Daryl Lindsay at Mulberry Hill and she wrote about this wonderful life in her autobiographical novel, Time Without Clocks, named for her assertion that she couldn’t wear a watch without it stopping. She was once described as ‘chronologically impaired’.
The Lindsay’s American-style weatherboard home was completed in 1926 and Joan Lindsay lived there until her death in 1984 when it was left to the National Trust. Although the garden was more Sir Daryl’s domain, she was a keen vegetable gardener and also loved the garden’s gnarled old mulberry tree for which the property was named.
The house at Mulberry Hill is surrounded by a simple garden of lawn, mature trees, flowering shrubs and clipped hedges.
C.J. Dennis – ‘Arden’, now the ‘Singing Gardens’, Toolangi, Victoria
Much loved bush poet C.J. Dennis built his dream bush home, nicknamed ‘Arden’ in Toolangi, about 80 km northeast of Melbourne, in 1916 and divided his time between writing poetry there and newspaper columns in the city for the next 30 years until his death in 1938.
His first and best known poetry collection, ‘The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke’ was published in 1915 and is famous for its use of Australian vernacular slang, instantly understood by native Australians but mostly unintelligible to English-speaking foreigners. It was enjoyed by thousands of Australian soldiers during WW1 in its ‘trench’ (pocket) edition.
The huge success of this first book provided the money to build ‘Arden’ on a beautiful bush block, covered with majestic eucalypts, tree ferns, wattle and tea tree. In 1935, Dennis (usually called ‘Den’) wrote ‘The Singing Garden’, inspired by the garden his wife, writer Olive ‘Biddy’ Herron, had made around Arden. Many of the poems are about birds attracted to the garden, which you can read here.
Although ‘Arden’ burned down in 1965, much of the garden was saved and forms the basis of the current occupation of the site – the Tea Rooms and Singing Gardens. Den and Biddy added maples which have glorious autumn colour in this cooler climate, and spring-flowering rhododendrons plus the all-important copper beech tree, planted in 1934 to commemorate the visit of Poet Laureate John Masefield to Victoria.
Each year the Tea Rooms hosts a CJ Dennis Festival.
“Before the dovecote, mirrored in the pond,
A veil diaphanous of drifting mist
Makes many a nimbus for great gums beyond
Whose gaunt, grey limbs a mounting sun has kissed
To palest amethyst.”
(from ‘Promise of Spring’ by CJ Dennis)
Literary Gardens in New Zealand
Katherine Mansfield – Thorndon, near Wellington, North Island
Mansfield’s Wellington birthplace and where she lived from 1888 to 1895 has been restored and is now the Katherine Mansfield House and Garden museum.
It is surrounded by a recreated garden containing many of the plants of the period and that Mansfield wrote about in her short stories and poems, such as lavender, viola, wallflower, hydrangea and cherry pie. The garden is listed by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.
Ngaio Marsh – Ngaio Marsh House (Marton Cottage), Cashmere, Christchurch, South Island
Ngaio Marsh was a crime writer but also theatre director and producer and accomplished painter. She lived in the simple white timber house from the age of 10 to her death in 1982, although she lived abroad and travelled widely during her life.
The garden, on a slope around the house, is filled with flowering perennials. The house and garden is open only by appointment and guided tour.
Literary Gardens in the USA
Edith Wharton – The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts
Edith Wharton was an early 20th century novelist, best known for The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome and the Pulitzer prize-winning The Age of Innocence, written in 1921.
Wharton’s garden at The Mount was designed and built during the 10 years she lived there, from 1901 to 1911 when she left to live in Paris after her divorce.
She was an unconventional woman for her period, writing novels, taking lovers, divorcing her husband and later living in the war zone of Paris during WW1.
She bought The Mount in 1901 as she was keen to get away from the society constraints and gossip of Newport and threw herself into remodelling the garden. She studied and wrote in 1904 about landscape gardening in her book ‘Italian Villas and Their Gardens’, explaining that gardens should be architectural compositions just like houses.
She said of her garden-making at The Mount:
“I am amazed at the success of my efforts. Decidedly I am a better landscape gardener than novelist and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth…”
Her garden at The Mount, designed with her niece Beatrix Jones Farrand, is a series of garden rooms with a sunken Italian garden with central circular pond, kitchen garden, lime (linden) walk, alpine rock garden, and a colourful French-style flower garden around a rectangular pond. A famous inclusion was the grass steps cut into a slope below the house.
This is a beautifully-maintained garden of grand design. It has survived near bankruptcy in 2008 and a very damaging flood in June 2014 which covered the French garden with gravel and silt and it looks fabulous today.
Emily Dickinson – The Homestead and neighbouring The Evergreens (her brother’s home) in Amherst, Massachusetts
The Homestead was Dickinson’s home for most of her life and was a great source of inspiration for her poetry. Many of her poems celebrate plants, flowers and nature:
“So build the hillocks gaily,
Thou little spade of mine
Leaving nooks for Daisy
And for Columbine
You and I the secret
Of the Crocus know
Let us chant it softly –
There is no more snow!”
She came from a family of nature lovers: her mother was a keen gardener and her brother was involved in landscaping the Amherst College grounds, with considerable influence from Frederick Law Olmsted. Dickinson studied botany in her early years at Amherst Academy, including completing a large herbarium scrapbook with 424 pressed specimens, so she knew her plants well and kept many exotic plants in a large conservatory at The Homestead, built in 1855.
The Homestead is on Main Street and was originally around 14 acres, including the area between The Homestead and The Evergreens where her brother lived, connected by a path “just wide enough for two who love” as described by Dickinson. The two gardens had open areas for lawn tennis and badminton, lots of mature trees, shrubberies of both local and exotic species and also large flower gardens.
During Dickinson’s lifetime she was much better known as a gardener than a poet as most of her poems were written in secret and only published after her death. She became incresingly reclusive and in her later years and rarely left the property, wandering about always wearing white and getting a reputation as a strange and dour creature, very unlike the Emily Dickinson we see in her poems.
The Emily Dickinson Museum wants to bring Emily back to life so, although only fragments of garden survived, in 2015 archeologists from the University of Massachusetts began a dig in the garden to recover buried garden remnants, including the structure of the original conservatory. New flower beds, the family barn and the heirloom variety apple and pear orchard will be replanted for the summer of 2017.
As the conservatory was where she did much of her writing they hope to rebuild it by the summer of 2017. It was dismantled nearly 100 years ago but it’s believed that most of the structure was buried in the garden. The Museum plans to plant it with many exotic varieties mentioned in Dickinson’s work – she said she could “inhabit the Spice Isles merely by crossing the dining room to the conservatory where the plants hang in baskets”
Her niece, who edited much of her peotry for publication also wrote that she remembered the garden filled with “carpets” of flowers, ribbons of peony hedges, platoons of sweet peas and marigolds to distraction”.
You can buy an Emily Dickinson garden to plant that has seeds of many of the plants she talks about in her poems, like iris, hollyhock, phlox, aster and cardinal flower.
Louisa May Alcott – Orchard House, Concord Massachusetts
Orchard House has 2 of the original 12 acres gardened by the Alcott family from 1858 to 1877 and where Louisa May wrote Little Women in 1868. She was a real tomboy just like her character Jo March and loved to run and climb trees.
The garden features many heirloom trees and Victorian flower gardens and there are current plans to restore the apple orchard.
The ‘Little Women garden’ features plants described in Little Women as being evocative of the four March sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy. More restoration is underway as Mr Alcott left very detailed drawings and descriptions of the garden throughout the family’s 20 year time there.
Eudora Welty – Jackson, Mississippi
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty lived in this house from 1925 when she was 16 until her death in 2001. Her novels and short stories, like The Optimist’s Daughter written in 1973, is full of references to plants and gardens, showing she was a keen and very knowledgeable gardener.
The garden at Eudora Welty House was originally laid out by her mother and both she and Eudora developed and maintained the garden during their lives, inspired by the writings of garden writers like Vita Sackville West. The garden is designed as a series of garden rooms and the plants were carefully chosen to create a long flowering season.
The garden has been restored from Welty’s journals, letters and photographs. It features an extensive camellia collection, woodland garden, massed spring bulb display in spring, irises, lilies, daylilies, roses and flowering shrubs, cutting garden, mixed borders and white painted arbors and lattice.
Literary Gardens in Russia
Anton Chekhov – The White Dacha in Yalta (белая дача / біла дача)
The White Dacha was built in 1898 with proceeds from the success of ‘The Seagull‘ and as a restful place as Chekhov was suffering from tuberculosis, from which he died in 1904. Chekhov was a passionate gardener, writing to his friend in 1899:
“The garden is going to be spectacular. I am planting it myself, with my own hands”
The garden features spring bulbs like hyacinth and tulips, lilies, irises, tuberose, flowering orchard (with cherry trees of course), heritage roses, rose and wisteria covered trellises and shady walks. The garden has many cast-iron and timber benches which Chekhov painted green.
Leo Tolstoy – Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula (200km from Moscow)
A national museum since 1921, this was Tolstoy’s home for his whole life and is where he wrote all his famous novels including War And Peace and Anna Karenina. In 1828 he was born on the leather couch now in the study and is buried under a simple green mound in the adjacent Zakaz forest in the ‘place of the green wand‘ among ancient trees.
The country estate features a beautiful a large lake, birch-lined avenue, many mature oaks, masses of scented lilacs in spring, vegetable gardens and orchards, and rustic peasant huts. Tolstoy walked about the estate every morning before beginning work.