Gaskell House Blogs

Sweet Nancy is its pretty Lancashire name

9th May 2019
in blog, Garden, Literature

A brave Sweet Nancy was in flower in the front bed this cold and wet Wednesday morning. A white, double, scented narcissus it took some finding in the bulb catalogues, because it is a name that has been given to a number of plants.

We had searched for it because, as with many of the flowers in the garden, we wanted to have a link between the writings of Elizabeth Gaskell and the plants growing in the garden. In this case it was the scene in Mary Barton (chapter 8) in which Jem Wilson goes to visit Mary and her father. He took great care with his appearance.

“He was dressed in his best. His dark hair had been arranged and rearranged before the household looking-glass, and in his button-hole he stuck a narcissus (a sweet Nancy is its pretty Lancashire name)..”

Mary, however, pretended to read and “as if (Jem and her father’s) conversation disturbed her, went upstairs to her little room”.

“..she had scarcely spoken a word to Jem; scarcely looked at him; never noticed his beautiful sweet Nancy. ……he did not know….that in her little dingy bedroom stood a white jug filled with a luxurious bunch of early spring roses, making the whole room fragrant and bright. They were a gift of her rich lover.”

Life is imitating art in the garden at the moment, or rather the garden is reflecting Elizabeth Gaskell’s written words. On the rear wall of the house, out of sight of the Sweet Nancy, an early flowering rose, Park’s Tea-scented China Rose, is making the whole wall “fragrant and bright.” It’s as if we have an illustrated edition of Mary Barton growing in the garden!

Chris Tucker

Garden volunteer

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood…

Wives and Daughters