Here is a picture of me in JANE AUSTEN'S BEDROOM.
It's hard to imagine a greater thrill. I checked out my first Austen novel from the library at Milton Williams Junior High School in Calgary, wrote an essay on Sense and Sensibility at university that became my first academic conference paper, wrote a chapter of my dissertation, which turned into my first book, on Emma, and have taught courses on Austen for twenty years, including two previous times on the Oxford Program. But because I've always been interested in landscape and aesthetic issues in the novels and thus filled up our field trips with visits to famous eighteenth-century gardens, it was not until this trip that I took students to the Chawton House Library and the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton. The first was the residence of Austen's wealthy brother Edward and the second the "cottage" in which she lived with her mother, her sister Cassandra, and their friend Martha Lloyd and in which she revised, wrote and/or published her six masterpieces.
There is, of course, one greater thrill for a confirmed Janeite such as myself who also happens to be a garden writer.
Yes, here I am in JANE AUSTEN'S GARDEN. Or to be precise, the walled garden planned by Jane, Cassandra and Edward but not built until shortly after the writer's death in 1817. Edward Austen Knight was an early adopter of the nineteenth-century craze for walled gardens. Although the tradition of the hortus conclusus or enclosed garden goes back to medieval Persia, and many gardens were surrounded by hedges or fences throughout the Renaissance, Jacobean and Georgian periods, the nineteenth century saw a technological breakthrough. Gardens surrounded by two brick or stone walls with a narrow space between them could be heated by fires or hot water pipes running through the space. Heat-loving imported plants could be grown against the warm walls, and even the center of the garden could be a few degrees warmer than the normal English climate, thus cheating the temperate summer into a longer growing season. Thus, the espaliered fruit tree is a signature feature of the nineteenth-century walled garden. Here is an espaliered cherry tree at Chawton:
In addition to the fruit trees, the garden features several vegetable beds including crops like my favorite "pie plant," rhubarb,
On the other side of the village of Chawton is the Jane Austen House Museum, which also has a beautiful restored garden.