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Jane Austen’s Flower Garden

Our garden is putting in order by a man who bears a remarkably good character, has a very fine complexion, and asks something less than the first. The shrubs which border the gravel walk, he says, are only sweetbriar and roses, and the latter of an indifferent sort; we mean to get a few of a better kind, therefore, and 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 laburnum. The border under the terrace wall is clearing away to receive currants and gooseberry bushes, and a spot is found very proper for raspberries.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
February 8, 1807

Vistors to Jane Austen’s home, Chawton Cottage, will by struck by the happily situated and profusely blooming gardens surrounding the house. Summer finds the flowers, most what Austen herself would have known and loved, filling the area with color and scent. Cornflowers, poppies and marigolds share ground with roses, daisies, hollyhocks, and a profusion of other heirloom blooms.

In Constance Hill’s 1901, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, we find this beautiful description, “A large garden lay behind the house where, we are told, “there was a pleasant, irregular mixture of hedgerow, and gravel walk, and orchard, and long grass for mowing, arising from two or three little enclosures having been thrown together.” “I remember the garden well,” writes Miss Lefroy. “A very high thick hedge divided it from the (Winchester) road, and round it was a pleasant shrubbery walk, with a rough bench or two where no doubt Mrs. Austen and Cassandra and Jane spent many a summer afternoon.” We have sat in what was once this “shrubbery walk,” beneath the shade of great over-arching trees, one of which, an oak, is said to have been planted by Jane herself.

Writing to her sister during the month of May [1811] she says: “The whole of the shrubbery border will soon be very gay with pinks and sweet-williams, in addition to the columbines already in bloom. The syringas, too, are coming out. . . . You cannot imagine – it is not in human nature to imagine – what a nice walk we have round the orchard. The rows of beech look very well indeed, and so does the young quickset hedge in the garden. I hear to-day that an apricot has been detected on one of the trees.” Was it a “Moor Park,” we wonder, such as Mrs. Norris and Dr. Grant quarrelled over?

By the time the family went to live at Chawton, Mrs. Austen had handed over the management of the house-keeping to her daughters. She was then nearly seventy years of age, but “she found plenty of occupation for herself,” writes Miss Lefroy, “in gardening and needlework. The former was, with her, no idle pastime, no mere cutting of roses and tying up of flowers. She dug up her own potatoes, and I have no doubt she planted them, for the kitchen garden was as much her delight as the flower borders, and I have heard my mother say that when at work, she wore a green round frock like a day-labourer’s.”

Of the garden current vistors to Chawton will find, former curator Jean Bowden wrote in 1990,
“The garden at Jane Austen’s house is a joy to me… I am trying to grow plants which were introduced into England before Jane died in 1817, especially old shrub roses…I also sow old-fashioned annuals each year… like Love-in-the-Mist, Larkspur, cornflowers and Candytuft. Luckily, Columbines seed themselves all round the village – a nice very dark red one, almost black, and we also have some pink ones and pure white ones. Jane mentions Sweet Williams (Dianthus) and I grow these too, but they are more trouble as they are biennials and need replacing every other year.


Jane, as you know, mentioned lots of plants which she knew and loved, in her letters, and we have: “Laburnum rich, in streaming gold; Syringa Iv’ry pure” – she meant Philadelphus, or Mock Orange here.

It was a very sad day when the last of the two oak trees planted by Jane Austen had to be cut down because it was unsafe. That was in 1986. However, I rescued a self-sown seedling and replanted it in a better position, on the west lawn.

There are lots of wild strawberries growing around the barns, and there are usually enough for my supper each night, in season. As I pick them, I can hear Jane “talking” to Cassandra in her letter of June 1811: “I had the agreeable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe – had you been at home, this would have been a pleasure lost!”*

The key to creating a garden Austen would have felt at home in is, as Bowden writes, to choose flowers which were common during her lifetime. These would include: Syringa, Lilic, cornflowers, columbines, Sweet Williams, old fashioned roses, Hollyhocks, pinks and small daisies. Shrubberies take time to grow and groom, but can be a lovely addition to any yard. Fruit trees are also charming accents, providing small patches of shade and the promise of produce in the summer. Combine these old fashioned plants in your flower beds and sit back to enjoy a colorful display each year. The perfect place to relax and read your favorite novel.

Start with a plan for your garden, like this excellent layout from Springhill Nursery (below). It will give you an idea of where you want your plants to grow. To plant a successful flower garden, you will want plants that bloom at different times throughout the growing season, as well as a variety of color and height. An internet search for Heirloom plants and Cottage Gardens will provide innumerable resources for choosing your garden’s shape and inhabitants.


Other helps include the soon to be published In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, author of Tea with Jane Austen (Pre-order available now: ISBN-10: 097904751X
ISBN-13: 978-0979047510) and Jane Austen and the English Landscape by Mavis Batey. Those who live in the United Kingdom, or plan to visit this summer might also like to take Linda Thorne’s The Gardens of Jane Austen’s England 2008.
For information about these tours, contact thorneandco@netscape.ca or www.soaneandpartners.co.uk.


*Excerpted from Living in Chawton Cottage, by Jean Bowden, JASNA Persuasions #12, 1990, Pages 79-86

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In the Pink: Dressing for a Fox Hunt

He told her of horses which he had bought for a trifle and sold for incredible sums; of racing matches, in which his judgment had infallibly foretold the winner; of shooting parties, in which he had killed more birds (though without having one good shot) than all his companions together; and described to her some famous day’s sport, with the fox- hounds, in which his foresight and skill in directing the dogs had repaired the mistakes of the most experienced huntsman, and in which the boldness of his riding, though it had never endangered his own life for a moment, had been constantly leading others into difficulties, which he calmly concluded had broken the necks of many.
Northanger Abbey

Modern foxhunting is not as ancient as some people might think. It was mainly developed by Hugo Meynell, Master of the Quorn Hunt between 1753 and 1800.

The earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk in 1534, where a farmer used his dogs in an attempt to catch a fox.

Most hunts believed it to be beneath their status to hunt “vermin” and continued mostly, to hunt deer until the 1830’s.

Due to the Industrial Revolution, roads, rail and canals split hunting country. People began to move out of the country and into towns and cities to find work. It became more convenient to hunt foxes rather than deer as hunting deer requires great areas of open land, such as Dartmoor and Exmoor, where it continues today.

By the late 19th century foxhunting was probably at it’s most popular. This is thought to be as a result of railways giving access to the Shires for people who would otherwise be stuck in the towns. The rising middle-classes who wished to improve their social standing ensured that hunting became further expanded.

Mounted hunt followers of today typically wear traditional hunting attire. A prominent feature of hunts operating during the formal hunt season (between late October and the end of March) is that hunt members wear ‘colours’. This attire consists of the traditional scarlet coats only worn by huntsmen, masters, former masters, whippers-in (regardless of sex) and other hunt staff members, and are also known as Pinks or Pinques; the ladies generally wearing scarlet tabs on their black or dark navy coats. These help them stand out from the rest of the field.

Various theories about the derivation of this term have been given, ranging from the colour of a weathered scarlet coat to the name of a purportedly famous tailor who purchased a significant quantity of red fabric after the end of the war with the United States. No longer needed for vast quantities of military uinforms, he found a new use for it by creating specialized hunting attire. Though many believe that the term “in the pink” (someone in perfect health or happiness), gains its meaning from fox hunting, there is dispute as to whether or or not it refers to actually being “in Pink”, the color of the coat, or to the pink and healthy complexion gained by outdoor exercise.

Some hunts, including most hare hunts, use green rather than red jackets. The colour of breeches (riding pants) vary from hunt to hunt and are generally of one colour, though two or three colours throughout the year may be permitted. Unlike the jacket, the colours of the breeches remains the same throughout the cubbing (Septemeber and October, when new dogs are introduced to the pack) and formal seasons. Boots are generally English dress boots (no laces). For the men they are black with brown leather tops (called top boots), and for the ladies, black with a patent black leather top of similar proportion to the men. Additionally, the number of buttons is significant. The Master of the hunt wears a scarlet coat with four brass buttons while the huntsman and other professional staff wear five. Amateur whippers-in also wear four buttons.

Another differentiation in dress between the amateur and professional staff is found in the ribbons at the back of the hunt cap. These ribbons were designed to deflect rain over the collar of the coat rather than allowing it to drip down the back of the neck. The professional staff wear their hat ribbons down, while amateur staff and members of the field wear their ribbons up. The traditional reason given for these differences is that the professional staff has no option but to remain out in inclement weather, whereas the amateur or field member may go home whenever they wish.

Those members who do not wear colours, tend to dress in a black hunt coat and unadorned black buttons for both men and ladies (called “ratcatcher”), with breeches the same as the other members. Boots are all English dress boots and have no other distinctive look. Some hunts also further restrict the wear of formal attire to weekends and holidays and use ratcatcher all other times.

This outfit also has its roots in Regency fashion, as the fashionable clothes for Gentlemen in Jane Austen’s day were buff coloured breeches and a dark (black or navy) coat with tall shaft boots. The modern Sportcoat is a throwback to this era, as well.


According to, Peculiar Privilege: A Social History of English Foxhunting, 1753-1885, November to March was, and remains, fox hunting season, starting after the fall of the leaf, when the fields lie fallow, and ending after the last frost, just before the first planting. The golden age for hunting in Leichesterchire is considered to be 1810 to 1830. During this time, there were as many as 300 hunters stabled in Melton Mowbray–with some gentlemen keeping up to 12 hunters. A gentleman could hunt six days a week with the Quorn, the Cottesmore, the Belvoir, and the Pytchley, and to do so would need at least two mounts every day to keep pace with the master and the pack of hounds.

Between late 1700’s to about mid 1800’s, when the jumping pommel was invented for the side saddle, ladies were more likely to be advised to “ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite.”

While most chose to ride to the hunt, a few would follow, followed the hunt in their carriages, keeping to the roads and lanes rather than going cross-country.

Why not browse our costume section at our online giftshop for costume, patterns and accessories?

Information from Wikipedia.com. Visit The Masters of Foxhounds Association and Foundation to learn about modern Fox Hunting and Fox Chases, as well as current legislation and conservation efforts.