The Gaskell family were attracted to the house on 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 field 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.
Elizabeth wrote in 1850 about the garden; ‘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.’
The garden at Plymouth Grove was immensely important to Elizabeth. This was where she could grow flowers and vegetables. 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 greenhouse attached to the house during the Gaskells’ time. This was heated from the kitchen in the basement.
The Garden Today
Today, the garden has been planted to show you the sort of garden that the Gaskell family 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 using period plants where possible, with particular reference to Elizabeth Gaskell’s writings.
New Family Garden Trail
In the summer of 2022 we launched a new garden trail aimed at younger visitors. Scan the QR codes to learn fun facts, play games, tell jokes and find out ways you can help to support wildlife and reduce your carbon emission at home. During the summer we also have Victorian games on the lawn and you are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy in the garden.
Areas of the Garden
The front Garden is a collection of hollies interspersed with shrubs, herbaceous plants and seasonal bedding plants.
The Fernery, to the right, at the front of the house is an informal area of native ferns and shade-loving plants. It is also a great habitat for insects.
The driveway is lined with espaliered apple and pear trees (all varieties developed in the northwest) with a lavender hedge, under-planted with crocus and annuals.
A tea rose is planted on the rear of the old Coach house. Elizabeth references yellow roses in her novel Ruth to show a positive change between characters and circumstances. ‘The yellow rose had clambered up to the window of Mr Benson’s bedroom, and its blossom-laden branches were supported by a pear tree rich in autumnal fruit.’
The pergola is covered in roses and clematis. The best time to see and smell the pergola is in May and June.
The vegetable and fruit plot is next to the pergola and is planted with period varieties of vegetables and fruit.
‘I led the way into the Kitchen-Garden. It was in the first promise of a summer profuse in vegetables and fruits’
Elizabeth Gaskell, Cousin Phillis, 1864
The rear wall is covered with climbers and with spring bulbs planted beneath.
The long-boarder, at the left of the house, has a variety of small trees, flowering shrubs and perennials chosen with scent in mind.
On the steps at the back of the House we have a collection of pots with a changing display.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is run by Manchester Historic Buildings Trust (charity no. 1080606) and all money gained through private tours, talks, 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.