Photographs of the exhibit are by Talisman Brolin.
Could you describe the various gardens in the exhibition and what they contain? In your YouTube videos ( 1 , 2, 3), you mention, and viewers can see, formal gardens and woodland gardens, as well as replicas of Emily Dickinson’s home and of her brother’s home.
The exhibition space in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is approximately 8,800 square feet. As you walk into the space from either entrance you first come upon a picket fence such as the one that surrounds the Dickinson property. At this point you are truly entering Emily’s world.
The conservatory exhibit is centered on Emily Dickinson’s home, The Homestead, re-imagined. The yellow-painted brick home is the central feature of the exhibition, with the woodland path leading to Austin Dickinson’s home, the Evergreens, off to one side and formal gardens (cutting gardens, peony beds, vegetable plots, and fruit trees) off in the other direction. The Homestead and Evergreens are connected by a path bordered on either side by a woodland-style garden with large rhododendron, evergreens, hemlocks, and ferns. It is this path that Dickinson described as “just wide enough for two who love”. She traveled the path to her brother and sister-in-law’s house often and would light a lantern in her window to signal that she returned home safely. Though Dickinson did travel to Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., she loved her home and would spend the majority of her life within the confines of the picket fence at The Homestead.
The entire space in the Conservatory is brimming with luscious plantings. Each day plants are groomed and replaced so that they are viewed at their peak. There is a mix of plants that Dickinson wrote about and collected as well as an assortment of plants that were known to have been grown in mid-19th-century gardens. Dotted among the plantings are interpretive signs talking about the poet and her life, pairings of verse with corresponding flowers, and a few lessons about Victorian floral symbolism from the texts that Dickinson studied.
The self-guided tour of the exhibit includes 35 poems posted throughout the garden, along with commentary on the poetry available via cell phone. How does Dickinson’s poetry shape your understanding of her garden?
There are ideas about what Dickinson’s garden looked like based on how the garden spaces relate to her home and her brother’s home as well as descriptions of flower beds, types of flowers grown, and the growing requirements for each, but there isn’t a definitive layout of these spaces. After reading her poems and consulting with our advisory committee members Marta McDowell and Judith Farr, Ph.D., we were able to imagine the lively mid-19th-century garden that could have been.
Having the full text of 35 poems on display through our gardens helps me to understand the diversity of the plants that she admired and the variety of settings that she explored. We’ve spread her poems so that they are appropriately located—in a meadow, in an orchard, under a pine tree, near a stream, etc.
What are some differences today’s gardeners will see between their gardens and Dickinson’s?
Dickinson’s garden as created by the staff of The New York Botanical Garden is lush, filled with flowers, and fragrant; it includes layered plantings of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables, and bulbs. We’ve re-created Dickinson’s woodland path, meadow, orchard, vegetable garden, cutting garden, and conservatory.
The biggest difference that our visitors will see between the gardens
we’ve created and their own gardens is that through horticultural
manipulation we are able to create “the dream”—a garden in which all
flowers are in peak at the same time: from dogwoods to daylilies and
everything in between, including tulip, hyacinth, cabbage, corn, and
Who came up with the idea for this exhibition? How did the idea evolve?
The Garden has a long range planning group—15 members from various departments—that meets bi-weekly to plan the exhibition calendar. Our goals for the exhibition program are multifaceted. We always look to find ways to connect people to plants; this could be through art, science, history, etc. We also look for ways to reinterpret our gardens
and collections across our 250 acres, which comprise 50 gardens, a
50-acre old-growth forest, and a collection of over 1 million living
plants. In my time at The Garden we have featured (to name a few) Moore
in America, the monumental sculpture of Henry Moore; Darwin’s
Garden: An Evolutionary Adventure; The
Glory of Dutch Bulbs: A Legacy of 400 Years; The Orchid Show: Cuba in Flower;
Orchid Show: Brazilian Modern; and Kiku:
The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum. The exhibitions are
stunningly beautiful, and multi-disciplinarily educational. We are
always looking to try something new!
Do you have a favorite poem? Why?
My River runs to Thee -
Blue Sea - wilt welcome me?...
I would never have considered myself a poetry aficionado; in fact, I struggled with it in school. I was more interested in art classes. Through working on this project and by learning about Dickinson’s home, family, garden, and hobbies, I then came upon her poetry in the opposite manner to which it is typically taught. For my part in the planning, her poetry was the final element. A gift of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson this Valentine’s Day came at absolutely the perfect time.
My favorite poem, "My river runs to thee" is simple yet saucy. Superficially it is a poem about nature, about a river getting lost in the sea. Digging deeper you can feel the passion and longing. It is about giving in, getting lost in, and desiring to be swept away by love. By using the imagery of the sea you can feel the butterflies and sense the yearning to surrender to new love.
What are some ideas from Dickinson’s garden that contemporary gardeners can integrate into their own gardens?
Gardeners who visit the exhibition will be in awe of the plant palette that Dickinson was exposed to. Plants grew on her family property; she ordered plants from catalogs; she collected plants for her herbarium; she wrote hundreds of poems about plants, flowers, and nature; and also wrote about plants and gardening in her correspondence. She was inspired by plants and was enamored by their attributes.
Contemporary gardeners should experiment with a diversity of plants including fruit trees, vegetables, and masses of colorful annuals and perennials. Dickinson was fond of fragrant flowers, and roses, hyacinth, jasmine, gardenias, and stock make great additions to the garden. Having enough flowers to spare is also an important element that Dickinson would approve of: having pressed flowers to put into correspondence, fresh edible flowers to adorn baked goods, and a cutting garden with which to select flowers for tussie-mussies. In addition, Dickinson was even fond of dandelions; we should not forget to find beauty in even the simplest of weeds.
Karen Daubmann oversees all logistical aspects of the Garden’s burgeoning horticultural exhibition program, including coordinating with designers, art handlers, and associated vendors for the planning, installation, and deinstallation of several major shows each year. Ms. Daubmann received her Master of Science degree in Public Horticulture Administration from the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware and bachelor’s degrees in Urban Horticulture and Turf Grass Management (BS) and Landscape Architecture (BLA) from the University of Rhode Island. She came to the Garden in 2007 from the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, where she was Director of Horticulture.
FURTHER DICKINSON READING FROM HUP: Dickinson’s poems are available from HUP in definitive manuscript, multi-volume, and reading editions. Dickinson’s knowledge and love of flowers is documented in Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium (a collection assembled when she was a young teenager) and in Judith Farr’s The Gardens of Emily Dickinson. And this fall, we’ll publish an important new volume in Dickinson studies: Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Poems and Commentaries.