I first read Pride and Prejudice in grade school, when my grandmother put a volume of Readers Digest Condensed Classics for Children in my hands. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice (unabridged) several times since then, but I never had a good grasp of the culture of that day and missed some subtle humor in the novel. And you know, I never once thought of Jane Austen as a gardener.
My ignorance on both counts was remedied by reading In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson. Ms. Wilson covers everything you could want to know about Jane Austen and gardens. You learn about Jane’s own gardens, of course, but also get a good background in the garden history of the period, from design philosophies to silly fads, often learning what Austen thought of them through direct quotes from her letters or those of her relatives. You see all the extant buildings and grounds that are thought to be the basis for the residences in her novels. There is even a chapter on recreating the style of Austen’s gardens in your own, and an appendix that tells you the locations used for all of the movies based on Jane’s books.
So now I know that a vicar is different than a parson, and that “plucking a rose” is a euphemism for visiting the outhouse, and that a deer park is a very particular kind of estate, implying old money. I also know that Jane “could not do without a Syringa, for the sake of Cowper’s line.” (The syringa she speaks of is actually mockorange.) Whether you garden or not, if you are a fan of Jane Austen’s novels, this book will add to your enjoyment of them. And if you are a gardener as well as a fan, your delight will be doubled, knowing that Jane was truly one of us.