Gaskell House Blogs

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Garden “A Great delight”

26th April 2017
in blog

Whenever I read one of Mrs Gaskell’s letters I am reminded of those circular radar screens you see in films about the Second World War. The sweeping arm illuminates what appear to be random spots of light on the screen, just as Mrs Gaskell’s pen moves from subject to subject with no immediately discernible connection. I thought I would finish the current sequence of blogs with a similar approach to plants and flowers in the garden. I will just pick whatever comes to mind.


Firstly are the imperial lilies, fritilleria imperialis, which stand either side of the entrance path. They certainly do not have the most attractive smell as they emerge from the soil in early spring but the final appearance is impressive.

They are set off perfectly by the yellow wallflowers that are so strongly scented at the moment. They are a reminder of Mrs Gaskell’s letter of 1836 in which she describes Marianne, then about two years old, “wanting to be bathed in the golden bushes of wallflowers”.

An azalea has currently emerged in flower on the other side of the Imperial lilies. It is unfortunately more pink than we had anticipated, and certainly not complimentary to the reddish brown of the lilies. I suspect that when the time is right it will swap places with the yellow azalea that is starting to flower the other side of the fence. An example of how a garden evolves rather than staying to a set plan.

In that same bed, North American plants are emerging which are intended as references to Mrs Gaskell’s friendship with Charles Eliot Norton, Professor at Harvard, and also to the Canadian emigration at the end of Mary Barton. In the mid-19th Century plants originating in North American were available and sought after.


There isn’t a wealth of flowers in the garden at the moment, though roses are beginning to show and the lilac is not far off. What can be appreciated however, is the contrasting leaf shapes of the plants in the long border at the side of the house. It’s a reminder of the more subtle pleasures of the garden.

About to flower on the wall at the back of the house is Parks Yellow Tea- Scented China which dates from 1824, though I notice that there is some thought that the plant currently available may be a later offshoot.  We hesitated before creating the planting container in which it is rooted, worried that it would not be a sufficiently nurturing position. The rose has mocked those doubts as it scrambles up the wires provided. The network was extended earlier last week to accommodate its vigorous growth.

Approaching from the other end of the wall but at a much slower pace, is a wisteria. It has yet to get to the top of the archway that will carry it across the path at the side of the house. However, once it has established itself on the wall it will be a sight to be seen.

Iris and Tulips

The iris and tulips in the front bed and the wallflowers in the bed below the morning room window are in contention for the brightest colour in the garden. The iris is iris florentina, the source of the aromatic orris root, used in the making of perfume. Not only is it an attractive plant but it also makes reference to Mrs Gaskell’s and her daughters’ travels in Italy.

The tulip, tulip Couleur Cardinal, referred to in an earlier blog, has emerged in a mixture of its original red and the virus induced variegation. I think it’s an attractive combination. There may be further posts from the garden at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House as the gardening season progresses but that’s it for now. Thank you for reading.

Chris Tucker

Volunteer Gardener at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The house and gardens are open Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday 11-4.30pm.

The guides brought the home alive. It was inspiring to hear about this woman and extraordinary family

Visitor to the House in 2021