The Gaskells were attracted to the house in Plymouth Grove because it was on the edge of town with a large garden which the whole family could enjoy. There was space to grow flowers and vegetables, and it had the added attraction of a paddock where they could keep a cow, a pig and poultry. Maps and written sources of the time indicate that, when the Gaskells took up residence in 1850, it was a typical villa garden of the period.
The garden at Plymouth Grove was immensely important to Elizabeth. This was where she could grow both flowers that were a sensory delight and also vegetables for the kitchen. It was also a place where she could truly relax (‘without a bonnet’) away from social scrutiny. The garden (somewhat bigger than today) at Plymouth Grove gave her great pleasure and she made exciting plans for planting. In addition to the large garden, there was also a conservatory attached to the house during the Gaskells’ time. This was heated from the kitchen in the basement.
Do you know I believe the garden will be a great delight in our new house. Clay soil it will be, and there is no help for it, but it will be gay and bright with common flowers; and it is quite shut in, – and one may get out without a bonnet which is quite a blessing. Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850
The Garden now
Today, the garden has been planted to show the sort of garden that the Gaskells enjoyed. The choice of plants has been informed by references in Elizabeth’s letters and novels, as well as by Victorian garden history. The layout is based on a detailed map of Manchester in 1850 which shows the paths and planting areas. The garden is intended to give as much enjoyment today as it did in Elizabeth’s time. Volunteer gardeners have created what you see today. They have used period plants where possible, with particular reference to Elizabeth Gaskell’s writings, and the garden will continue to evolve.
Fernery – an informal area of native ferns and shade-loving plants.
Front Garden – a collection of hollies interspersed with shrubs, herbaceous plants and seasonal bedding.
A rustic fence and gate lead to The Long Border, a variety of small trees, flowering shrubs and perennials chosen with scent in mind.
Rear Wall – covered with climbers and with spring bulbs planted beneath.
Driveway – lined with espaliered apple and pear trees (all varieties developed in the northwest) with lavender hedge, under-planted with crocus and annuals.
Pergola – covered in roses and clematis.
Steps – a collection of pots with a changing display.
Vegetable and Fruit Plot – An area of the garden next to the pergola is planted with period varieties of vegetables and fruit.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is run by Manchester Historic Buildings Trust (charity no. 1080606) and all money gained through private tours, room hire and ticket sales goes towards the ongoing maintenance and running costs of the house and garden. If you would like to support the house with an additional donation you can do so via this link.