Gaskell House Blogs

National Gardening Week – The Primrose, Miss Matty’s Favourite Flower 

11th April 2017
in blog

It’s National Gardening Week between 10 – 17 April and so we thought we’d introduce people to the garden that surrounds Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and to the plants that are in the garden and flowering this week.

I am one of the volunteer gardening team at the garden and I plan blog regularly during National Gardening Week. We have also set up a “Meet the Gardeners” event as part of the week. This takes place on the morning of Wednesday 12 April from 11am and there will be a small range of plants on sale. (Meet the Gardeners Event is free but if you would like to tour the house, the usual admission price is applicable.)

So todays’ Plant of the day is The Primrose

I was standing in the middle of the fern bed, trying to spot weeds, when two visitors came through the gate from Plymouth Grove. They stopped immediately and started taking photographs of the primroses that were, and still are, in flower. They liked the display and commented “Miss Matty’s favourite flower.”

Their comment encouraged me, not only because they appreciated the garden but because they had made the connection to Mrs Gaskell’s “Cranford”. It was a confirmation that we had achieved what we had set out to achieve, which was an attractive garden that was linked to the writings of Mrs Gaskell, her life and the lives of her family.

There is no detailed description of the garden at the time the Gaskells lived in the house. So, when we chose plants we sought out plants that would be attractive, plants that were available during the time the family lived in the house and plants that had a link to Mrs Gaskell and her family.

The fern-bed follows these guidelines. It lies to the right of the front door. We started planning it before we had been able to get on the site but knew it was shaded by a large tree.  We thought a fern bed would be right for the growing conditions. We also knew that during Mrs Gaskell’s life there was a craze for ferns (pteridomania). So, we ordered the fern plants.

When we got onto the site we saw that, because of the slope of the bed, there was more ground to cover than we thought. However, tree stumps, rocks and cobbles helped provide some additional interest and variety in the bed. Furthermore, we widened the range of plants in the bed to include wild flowers that might be found around Manchester in the mid-19th Century. We moved from planting a fernery, to planting a bed for primroses, foxgloves, red campion, harebells, violets and native daffodils. We were guided in our choice by a book published locally in 1859, by an author who lived near to Mrs Gaskell’s Rumpold Street house (where she lived prior to Plymouth Grove).  We like to think it’s also a tribute to the 19th Century “florists” of the locality in which in itself is a link to a character in “Mary Barton”.

The fern bed is also an example of how the garden develops as we get to know its quirks. Last year, for example, it became obvious that the ground under the tree was too dry for some of the plants. So, we moved them forward from under the tree canopy and replaced them with iris foetidissima (stinking iris) which seems to survive the dryness. Every year we top dress with leaf mould, made from the large leaf fall of the trees that surround us and which provide the gardeners with plenty of leaf-sweeping exercise in the autumn.

I will finish where I started, with weeding. Because we want to encourage self-seeded wild flowers, the fern bed is never spotlessly weed free. My fellow gardeners may think this is just my excuse, though I do try and clear the bed of sycamore, sorrel, dandelion and buttercup seedlings which are just too wild! However, allowing small seedlings to develop, has allowed the primroses and foxgloves to spread and the arrival of an attractive creeping plant which I think is creeping toad-flax that artfully climbs up the small tree stump on the bottom left-hand side of the bed. If you think I’m wrong in that identification, please let me know.

I hope you join me on Wednesday 12 April for National Garden Week and in my next blog I will write about tulips in the garden.

Chris Tucker
Volunteer Gardener at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The house and garden are open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 11-4.30pm

The interruptions of home life are never ending

Elizabeth Gaskell 1863