Friday, October 15, 2021

Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life

The birthday and holiday season is upon us and I have made it a personal goal to read all of the books that I received last year for my birthday and Christmas before I get more!

To that end, I finally finished my slow read of Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet, by Marta McDowell. My son gave this to me last year for Christmas and I started it in July, at the height of my gardening year.

As you might expect I absolutely loved it. It follows the seasons and maps them beautifully to the course of Dickinson's life, with plants and gardening as the focus from her early springlike school days to her wintry final reclusive days. 

The book is packed with illustrations--photos of the places she lived, then and now, as well as beautiful paintings and sketches of flowers, trees, shrubs, berries, seeds, and so forth. 

It is also sprinkled generously with her poems the reference her plants and gardens. I hadn't actually read many of her poems before, apart from the ones that are quoted regularly, so it was a treat to read them in the context of what inspired her to reach for a certain metaphor and what she did with it.

In addition to learning about the plants Dickinson and her family, brother and sister as well as parents, grew in Amherst, MA, I was really interested in reading about her life. For example, she was lifelong friends with Helen Hunt Jackson, author of Ramona. Her relationship to her sister and her brother and his family reminded me a lot of Jane Austen and her relationship with her sister and the families of her brothers.

The final chapter is all about the Emily Dickinson Museum, which includes both The Homestead, where she lived, and The Evergreens, next door where her brother and his family lived. You can definitely count on seeing a Travelogue from me, hopefully next year, when I get a chance to visit.

There is also a lengthy appendix that details all of the plants mentioned in the book. Confession: I did not read this part but plan to use it as a reference guide as it is beautifully done with detailed descriptions and images.

This was a delightful way to get to know Emily Dickinson, poet and gardener, sister and friend. A lovely addition to my gardening book collection.


  1. This sounds fascinating! I've visited her grave in Amherst, MA but didn't get a chance to visit her museum also in Amherst --someday.

    Right now I'm reading Shirley Jackson's bio/Among the Savages which is quite interesting.

  2. This sounds like a beautiful book!

  3. This sounds like a lovely book! :)

  4. Wouldn't it be great to go to her Museum?! Now I want to go. This book seems a good intro to her life.

  5. This does sound lovely! I am not sure why I have never visited her home - it's only two hours away. The last time I was in Amherst I did consider it but I think maybe it was closed.

    1. It's often the case that we don't visit places nearby but travel across the country or the ocean to visit places in other people's backyard!