In the Garden with Jane Austen: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews

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.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Lesley T January 23, 2009, 9:24 pm

I have just discovered your web site – although I do not garden in a Cold Climate, living in usually hot & sunny Venice, California (today rainy & cool), but I am British & an avid gardner & an AVID Jane Austin fan. However I had not heard of the book and am so excited & will order it immediately – thank you for reviewing it. Will definitely check in on your blog again.

Kathy Purdy January 23, 2009, 9:39 pm

Welcome, Lesley. You will enjoy the book, and will probably get even more out of it than I did, because you will have more familiarity with the towns and cities mentioned.

Mary S. January 18, 2009, 5:42 pm

I got this book for Christmas and love it. A lot of great Austen information as well as information about gardening fads. If you are an Austen fan (or someone who likes tea), you should also check out Wilson’s “Tea with Jane Austen.” It’s a hoot.

Elizabeth January 15, 2009, 12:22 pm

I confess I have never read Jane Austen, although my Mom tried to get me to read Pride and Prejudice for years. She never mentioned Jane liked gardens! I’ve downloaded it to my ipod, and will give it a whirl, and then maybe I’ll look into “In the garden…”. Sounds like a worthwhile winter project now that my seed ordering is done.

Brenda January 14, 2009, 10:41 pm

This is a great review! Thank you for sharing this information. I am glad I found you on Facebook. I have been meaning to ask you if you do some type of garden publications for your business?

Keep warm!

Kathy Purdy January 14, 2009, 10:54 pm

Thank you for stopping by, Brenda. Please come again.

Daffodil Planter January 14, 2009, 6:38 pm

Thank you for this excellent review! If not for you, I would have passed over the book, thinking it was just another product of the Jane Austen industry (along with books like “Places We’re Pretty Sure Jane Austen Visited” and “Knitting Socks the Jane Austen Way).

Kathy Purdy January 14, 2009, 11:02 pm

Daffodil Planter, original historical sources are cited and quoted throughout, though there are a few places where the author says, “We have no proof that Jane visited this place, but because of this and this we’re pretty sure she did.” Thanks for commenting. Hope to hear from you again. It won’t be long before daffodils start blooming. Well, okay, a couple of months from now.

LINDA FROM EACH LITTLE WORLD January 14, 2009, 11:26 am

Kathy — I agree that this is a wonderful book. I met Kim last fall (she lives about 75 miles away) and also got to hear her speak about the book in Madison. I am re-reading Austen and can’t believe how much she mentions gardens and how much she implies about character via garden metaphors.

Kathy Purdy January 14, 2009, 11:03 pm

How fortunate for you that you got to hear her speak. She did another book about Jane Austen and tea–have you read that one?

commonweeder January 14, 2009, 10:14 am

I also had no idea that Austen was so interested in gardens, but I am adding this book to my Must Read list. I think gardens are a reflection of their time which makes garden history fascinating.

debra January 14, 2009, 9:33 am

Hi Kathy, what an inspiring review! I take comfort in knowing that gardens, plants and flowers (and fads!) were in Jane Austen’s world. Good to read you again – I’ve missed your posts!
xoxo deb
ps, wonder what’s a “Cowper’s line?”

Kathy Purdy January 14, 2009, 9:44 am

Debra, I imagine it’s a line from one of Cowper’s poems, probably well-known at the time.

Robin Wedewer January 14, 2009, 8:53 am

Hi Kathy,

I haven’t read this one. But I enjoy books about historic gardens, so will add this one to my impressive reading list.

Are there photos? Or do you think this is appropriate for my Kindle?

Keep warm,
Robin Wedewer
Ntl Gardening Examiner

Kathy Purdy January 14, 2009, 9:43 am

Robin, there are photos of gardens or buildings on every page, as well as some illustrations from gardening manuals of the time. Do photos not show up well on Kindle?

Dee/reddirtramblings January 13, 2009, 10:20 pm

Darling review. When I buy it, I’ll go thru your site. I always thought she loved gardens because so many scenes happened in them & she often wrote specifically about flowers. Didn’t know the euphemism for outhouses.~~Dee

Leslie January 13, 2009, 9:44 pm

I’m going to look for this…it looks interesting. And my daughter, the Austin fanatic and gardener-want-to be would really love it!

Annie in Austin January 13, 2009, 5:32 pm

It does sound like a cool book, Kathy and you were so lucky to meet Jane Austen when you were young. I was married with 3 kids and already a gardener by the time I read Pride & Prejudice.

According to H. Peter Loewor’s book The Evening Garden, a Eurasian species of mockorange, Philadelphus coronarius, has been growing in English gardens since the sixteenth century. And Hortus Third says that while ‘Philadelphus’ is the correct scientific name, ‘Syringa’ was frequently used as a garden name for mock-orange. Sometimes in English mysteries a character will use the garden name “japonicas” when refering to the Quince, instead of saying Chaenomeles japonica. It took me awhile to figure that one out!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Colleen January 13, 2009, 5:09 pm

This sounds wonderful! Jane Austen is one of my literary heroes, and I had no idea she was a gardener. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this book.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Kathy Purdy January 13, 2009, 5:30 pm

Colleen, good to hear from you! You will enjoy the book very much!

Dan Eskelson January 13, 2009, 4:29 pm

I had no idea Ms Austen was a gardener…thanks for the insight!

One of my favorite plants is the syringa (falsely named – it is really philadelphus lewisii – Meriweather Lewis catalogued it on the Lewis-Clark expedition).

It is the state flower of my home state of Idaho, and does quite well here in the far north of the state…three in our yard now and hopefully I’ll find room for more.

Thanks again for the information.

eliz January 13, 2009, 4:15 pm

Nice post and the book sounds interesting.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter January 13, 2009, 3:51 pm

This sounds like a great book to curl up with on a winter’s evening. I love Jane Austen’s books, so I would love to know more about her & her gardens.

Kathy Purdy January 13, 2009, 3:56 pm

You will certainly enjoy it. It is also good for Jane Austen fans traveling to England.