A City Dweller Reviews: In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

Author, Kim Wilson
Kim Wilson is a writer, editor, and gardener who lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and is a longtime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She is the author of Tea with Jane Austen.

Forward by Celia Simpson
Celia Simpson is Head Gardener at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire.

“Jane Austen loved a garden. She took a keen interest in flower gardening and kitchen gardening alike. The Austens grew their own food whenever they could and had flower gardens wherever they lived, at their parsonage at Steventon in Hampshire, their town gardens at Bath and Southampton, and when they returned to Hampshire, at their cottage garden at Chawton. In Jane’s letters to her sister Cassandra, we see her planning the details of these family gardens, discussing the planting of fruit, flowers, and trees with enthusiasm. In the course of her life, she also had the opportunity to visit many of the grander gardens of England: her brother’s two estates at Chawton and Godmersham, the manor houses of friends and family, and probably even the great estate at Chatsworth, assumed by many to be the inspiration for Pemberley” From the introduction of In the Garden with Jane Austen

Kim Wilson takes us on a visual journey through various gardens Jane Austen would have created for herself, visited, or imagined in her novels, all interspersed with gorgeous photographs, quotes from her works and letters, and vignettes of engravings and poetry from her contemporaries.

We begin at Chawton Cottage, Austen’s home from 1809-1817, and the setting of the cottage and kitchen gardens that she wrote about so lovingly… “You cannot imagine – it is not Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the orchard” [31 May 1811], and then references to farm and parsonage gardens, which we see in Emma (Robert Martin’s summer house in his farm garden), and who can forget Mr. Collins day-long labors in his garden, much to Mrs. Collins’s satisfaction!

Jane Austen’s life in the cities of her times was confining, and one of her joys was the City Gardens. Wilson travels through the gardens of Georgian Bath, a variety of London’s garden squares Henry Austen (Jane’s brother) lived in several places in London and the areas surrounding these show up in her novels as the London homes of her characters: Brunswick Square in Emma, Hanover Square and Portman Square in S&S, the garden at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (where Austen’s characters visited, if not Jane herself), and the small town garden the Austens had in Southampton.

One of my favorite ‘walks’ that Jane Austen goes on is around ‘The Crescent’ or ‘The Royal Crescent’ which was "built between 1767 and 1775 by John Wood the Younger, the Royal Crescent was the first such curved terrace in Great Britain. Instantly fashionable, the thirty houses in the Crescent, some of the more expensive houses in Bath, were snapped up by the upper crust of society. The Duke of York, the second son of George III, lived at No. 16, which boasted a huge rear garden complete with a coach house and stables large enough for sixteen horses. No. 16, combined with No. 15, is now the site of The Royal Crescent Hotel. Jane Austen's aunt and uncle, the Coopers, lived for a time at No. 12, which is now divided into flats, as are most of the houses in the Crescent. No. 1 lacks a garden but the interior has been restored to Georgian splendor and is now a museum open to the public."

Jane Austen mentions the Royal Crescent in Northanger Abbey and mentions the Crescent twice in letters: In 1801 to her sister Cassandra, she says, 'On Sunday we went to church twice, and after evening service walked a little in the Crescent fields, but found it too cold to stay long', and in 1805, 'Miss Irvine invited us, when I met her in the Crescent, to drink tea with them...We did not walk long in the Crescent...It was hot and not crowded enough; so we went into the field.' That field is now Victoria Park.

The Royal Crescent

Jane Austen was a self-described “desperate walker” much as she imagined Elizabeth Bennet, so her love of Public Gardens & Parks is apparent in her novels and letters: Kensington Gardens, St. James and Hyde Park in London, Sydney Gardens and Alexandra Park at Beechen Cliff in Bath, Box Hill (made famous in Emma), and the tours of the picturesque (as Elizabeth’s tour through Derbyshire in P&P), and Netley Abbey near Southampton.

Kensington Gardens

The chapter on Mansion and Manor House Gardens takes us to Chawton House, Austen’s brother Edward’s estates in Kent and Hampshire, Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth, and Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire and the Vyne where “every park has its beauty and its prospects” where “one likes to get out into a shrubbery,” and we are reminded of Mr. Rushworth and his “improvements,” and the settings of Pemberley, Rosings, Mansfield Park, and in Emma, where the garden is nearly the heroine’s only place for solace, and Fanny with her own geraniums in her room (but she cuts roses for Mrs. Norris! …and a nice touch here …

Blenheim Palace

“Recipes for Mrs. Norris’s Dried Roses”)

Fine scented Wash-ball.
TAKE of the best White Soap, half a pound, and shave it into thin slices with a knife; then take two ounces and a half of Florentine Orrice, three quarters of an ounce of Calamus Aromaticus, and: the same quantity of Elder Flowers; of Cloves, and dried Rose Leaves, each half an ounce; Coriander-seed’s, Lavender, and Bay Leaves, of each a drachum, with three drachums of Storax. Reduce the whole to fine Powder, which knead into a Paste with, the Soap; adding a few grains of Musk or Ambergrise. When you make this Paste into Wash-balls, soften it with a little Oil of Almonds to render the composition more lenient. Too much, cannot be said in favour of this Wash-ball, with regard to its cleansing and cosmetic property.

Bags to scent Linen.
TAKE Rose Leaves dried in the shade, Cloves beat to a gross powder, and Mace scraped; Mix them together and put the composition into little bags.
Taken from The Toilet of Flora, 1779

Towards the end of 'In the Garden with Jane Austen', you will find a chapter where the author tells you how to recreate a Jane Austen themed garden of your very own. There is also a closing chapter on the gardens from Jane Austen films, some of which belong to various real life houses and gardens that are open to visitors!

The bibliography in the back of the book is one that should not be missed. Especially if you are interested in a list of eighteenth and nineteenth gardening manuals and publications!

Jane Austen's home, Chawton House, and gardens

“Our Garden is putting in order, by a Man who bears a remarkably good character, has a very fine complexion & asks something less than the first. The shrubs which border the gravel walk he says are only sweetbriar & roses, & the latter of an indifferent sort;–we mean to get a few of a better kind therefore, & at my own particular desire he procures us some Syringas. I could not do without a Syringa, for the sake of Cowper’s Line.–We talk also of a Laburnam.–The Border under the Terrace Wall, is clearing away to receive Currants & Gooseberry Bushes, & a spot is found very proper for raspberries.” Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, February 8, 1807

Please feel free to leave any comments,


Robert Parry said…
One thing that we have always done well in England is making gardens. There is really nowhere quite like it, and today it is more popular than ever. Almost any village or small town will, for example, have weekends during the Summer when people open their gardens to all-comers as part of a local tour. One can go from garden to garden, have tea and admire the lovely work. And of course there are the big estate gardens as well. At ever level, modest or grand, it is a very English pursuit.
Anonymous said…
What a lovely review.
I loved the photos and quotes from her letters. Added to my TBR pile! Maggie
Kimberly Eve said…
Thank you Robert for visiting and commenting. How lovely it must be to have all those beautiful gardens accompanying estates and homes throughout England!

Thank you Maggie for commenting as well. I enjoyed In the Garden with Jane Austen and I don't even have a garden!
Anonymous said…
Aperfect book for Spring, as flowers begin to bloom! And a lovely review and walk through her gardens. gigigirl
Kimberly Eve said…
Yes, isn't it though! Happy Spring and thanks for stopping by and commenting, gigigirl!

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