Two of Emily's favorite conservatory plants were daphne (Daphne odora) and jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), both with highly fragrant flowers.
As viewed from Main Street, the 3-acre Museum includes "The Evergreens" of brother Austin, wife Sue, and their three children and the original Dickinson Homestead, with restored fencing, exterior, interiors, and (coming soon) the reconstructed conservatory.
Emily Dickinson Concepts
for a book & related articles
Flower Gardener Extraordinaire
Funding note: Book project will be developed in collaboration with the Emily Dickinson Museum, partnering 50% in royalties and a still-needed grant. A university press has offered a contract.
•Concept: While conveying the high importance of flowers, gardening, and related nature in Emily Dickinson’s life and writings, we'll also demonstrate what a beautiful, loving person Emily was––most evident in her letters and in reminiscences by people who knew her, including children who grew up recalling her fondly. And contrary to myth that arose, Emily was keenly interested in her times, keeping well informed through newspapers, periodicals, books, and correspondence with friends, family, and literary figures.
•Visuals: Photo-dominated with 30/70 text/photo ratio, the text consisting of short essays sprinkled with garden-related excerpts from Emily’s poems and letters, some full poems, and reminiscences by people who knew Emily.
•Background: Lifelong resident of Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest poets. Yet only about 10 of her 1,789 poems were published in her lifetime, all in newspapers, none with her approval. More than a third of her poems and most of her more than 1,000 letters refer to plants and flowers, often meant to convey deeper meanings.
Most neighbors thought of Emily primarily as gardener and baker, as well as caregiver, who lived reclusively with younger sister Lavinia and their parents. Neighbors rarely caught glimpses of the elusive being in white dress who dispatched gifts of flowers and baked goods accompanied by witty, often puzzling, notes.
Born the second of three closely spaced children in the Homestead on Main Street built by her grandfather, Emily lived 40 of her 55 years there. When she was 9, the family moved a few blocks away to a home on what is today's North Pleasant Street, overlooking West Cemetery. In 1855, when Emily was 24, father Edward bought the Homestead back. He immediately initiated extensive renovations, including construction of a 6 x 17-foot conservatory for his daughters. Set into the sunny southeast portion of the house, the conservatory allowed Emily to garden joyously year-round the rest of her life. (Reconstruction of the conservatory will be completed this spring.)
In Emily’s time, the Homestead was a 14-acre farm, complete with livestock barn, orchard, and vegetable gardens that produced much of the family’s food. Its 11-acre meadow across Main Street supplied hay for the horses and livestock.
In school, Emily excelled in most courses, including botany. At 14, she began collecting and pressing wild and cultivated plants, which she placed in pleasing arrangements onto pages in her large-format Herbarium. That volume eventually contained more than 400 specimens that Emily identified and meticulously labeled as to genus and species based on the Linnaean taxonomic system still used today. The Herbarium was published in facsimile edition by Harvard’s Belknap Press in 2006.
Proposed book contents
Introduction. Emily’s flower-adorned funeral service. Discovery of her poems. 20th Century ownership battles. Worldwide fame. (8 book pages)
1. Guided tour of Homestead, Evergreens & grounds.
*remaining chapters 1,500–3,000 words (12 book pages)
2. Joyous Country Childhood. Family, gardens, nature.
3. Education. With studies leading to Emily’s creation of her Herbarium.
4. Carlo, Boon Companion. Emily's beloved Newfoundland dog for 17 years.
5. Gardening Sisters. Sister Lavinia (“Vinnie”), lifelong gardening partner.
6. An Evergreen Evergreens. Commitment of brother Austin and wife Sue to landscape beauty.
7. Emily’s Children. Charming garden-related interactions with niece, nephews and neighbor kids.
8. Greetings and Condolences. Letters and notes with pressed flowers. Bouquets with memorable notes.
9. Posthumous Publication. How Lavinia, T. H. Higginson, and Mabel Loomis Todd collaborated in publishing the poems. Subsequent collections & more.
Alongside Amherst's West Cemetery a few blocks from the Museum, this painting blends Emily with a daisy on a wall mural by David Fichte. Emily sometimes referred to herself as "Daisy." So daisies have become fitting tributes on her headstone, which niece Martha installed in the early 1900s, inscribed with name, dates, and "CALLED BACK," Emily’s entire final note to her beloved Norcross cousins.
Museum parlor display: Teen portraits of Emily, older brother Austin & younger sister Lavinia, accompanied by a facsimile edition of father Edward's didactic wedding gift to Mother, The American Frugal Housewife. © Neil Soderstrom & Emily Dickinson Museum.
Emily's restored bedroom with dress reproduction by Adrienne Saint-Pierre. © Neil Soderstrom & Emily Dickinson Museum
Museum Exec. Dir. Jane Wald shows a rendering of the facsimile conservatory, its reconstruction to be completed soon. Referring to her conservatory, Emily wrote "My flowers are near and foreign, and I have but to cross the floor to stand in the Spice Isles." © Neil Soderstrom & Emily Dickinson Museum
Habegger biography My Wars Are Laid Away in Books, Larrson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo & pressed cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus).
In The Evergreens, this wall sign appears in the second-floor hallway looking into the Nursery, which remained unchanged after Gib died, here with display of his clothes, slippers, and badminton rackets. Photos © Neil Soderstrom & Emily Dickinson Museum
After reviewing photos at following link, you can return here by clicking your browser window's tab for this page before closing the photo gallery itself
Emily mentions Carlo's sharing her perplexity after a hummingbird paused above a flower (poem F370). Carlo look-alike Edison is a Champion of Evelyn Odfell de Reus, breeder of Kloofbear Newfoundlands.
Homestead Library with portrait of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, whom Emily regarded as her literary mentor. In the early 1890s, he served as an editor of her first two posthumous volumes of poetry. © Neil Soderstrom & Emily Dickinson Museum
Concepts for Dickinson-related articles
Most people are aware that Emily wrote poetry, wore a white dress after age 30, and became reclusive except to family and close friends. Yet most people are unaware of the enormous role gardening played in Emily’s life, indoors and out. We could do articles on her gardening and her conservatory, as well as articles on topics in her letters and poetry, and more. Here's a link to potential conservatory photos, followed by that article concept and others.
Emily Dickinson's Conservatory Reborn!
We could lace the article with charming conservatory-related anecdotes by Emily and by niece Martha (Mattie) Dickinson and neighbor boy “Mac” Jenkins. As adults, they lovingly recalled their childhood time in the conservatory with Emily. Near the end of the article, a few paragraphs could address the research that informed reconstruction. We could also mention plants Emily cultivated through the winter.
Historical perspectives: Soon after repurchasing the family's Amherst, Mass., Homestead in 1855, Father Edward built an attached conservatory for Emily and younger sister Lavinia. As the lone surviving Dickinson in 1919, niece Martha sold the Homestead to the Park family. They dismantled the conservatory but incorporated its glazing into the back wall of their new garage––storing original doors there too. Prior to my visit in Dec 10 for Emily’s 186th birthday celebration, the new post-and-beam framework was already up.
Photos: Besides color and historical photos at linked gallery below, I’ll photograph reconstruction and plant installation, and continue photographing related plants.
Link to more related photo samples.
Related article concepts
•Emily’s Children. Charming garden-related interactions with niece, nephews and neighbor kids.
•Carlo, Boon Companion. Emily's beloved Newfoundland dog for 17 years, oft mentioned as gardening companion.
•Guided tour of the Museum. This includes the family Homestead, the next-door Evergreens occupied by Emily's brother and his family, and the three-acre grounds.
•Joyous Country Childhood. Family, gardens, nature.
•Gardening Sisters. Emily and sister Lavinia (“Vinnie”), lifelong gardening partner.
Completed article available
Emily Dickinson & The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Following are excerpts from my manuscript:
If you've read Stieg Larrson’s thriller or seen one of the film versions, you might wonder how a story of sexual abuse and murder in computer-age Sweden could relate to poet Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). Although the gentle Emily Dickinson and Stieg Larrson’s violent girl with the dragon tattoo were victims of male-dominated societies, their predicaments were as different as the ways they fought back.
So what's the connection? Both Dickinson and Larrson relied on pressed flowers as gifts. Emily routinely pressed flowers into her letters. At the outset of Larrson’s story, pressed flowers are imponderable messages for Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger. On his 82nd birthday, he receives a package like those he’s been receiving on his birthday for 44 years, each containing a flower in a simple glass frame. The first such flower was a birthday present from Vanger’s beloved grandniece, Harriet, when she was eight. But at age 16 Harriet mysteriously disappeared from the family’s island. Police could find no trace. Almost everyone assumed Harriet had been murdered....
Plant pressing and labeling: As a young teen, Emily Dickinson collected, pressed, and labeled more than 400 flower specimens for her large-format Herbarium, recently published in facsimile edition by Harvard. Botanically trained, Emily used the Linnaean system, still world standard, for identification based on flower parts.... Coincidentally for this article, the system’s inventor, Carl Linnaeus, and author Steig Larrson were Swedes....
Gallery link available by return email: email@example.com