Archaeologists Plan to Restore Emily Dickinson's Gardens

Daderot, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Daderot, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Daderot, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When she wasn’t writing poetry, Emily Dickinson loved to garden. She spent most of her life living at her family’s estate in Amherst, Massachusetts, tending to fruit orchards, a greenhouse, and flower and vegetable plots. Now, 130 years after Dickinson’s death, archaeologists are in the process of excavating and restoring her home’s grounds, The New York Times reports. They’ve replanted some apple and pear trees, and they also plan to locate Dickinson’s other gardens and coax them back to life.

Today, the Dickinson Homestead is part of the Emily Dickinson Museum. (The museum also comprises The Evergreens, a neighboring home that belonged to Dickinson’s brother and sister-in-law.) However, over the years it had passed through the hands of subsequent homeowners, who uprooted the property's orchard, covered the gardens with a lawn, and built a tennis court.

Despite these extensive construction efforts (and a hurricane in 1938), archaeologists have managed to find and analyze the foundation of a small conservatory, where Dickinson grew gardenias, jasmine, carnations, and other flowers year-round. The museum plans to rebuild the greenhouse, using as many of the original construction materials as possible, and projects that it will be finished by the end of the year.

As for the remaining gardens, archaeologists have unearthed remnants of a pathway which they hope will lead them to Dickinson’s original plots, where they could potentially find leftover seeds or other botanical remnants from the 19th century.

“It’s about trying to understand what her personal, physical world was like, juxtaposed to her immense universe of thought and imagination,” Jane Wald, the museum’s executive director, told The New York Times. “All that creativity and keen observation happened right here. Her home and gardens—these places were her poetic laboratory.”

Love Dickinson, history, and gardening? You can learn more about the poet’s green thumb—and even tend the historic landscape yourself—at the Emily Dickinson Museum’s Garden Days, which will run from June 3 to June 5. There, you can help recreate a wildflower bed in the poet’s garden, and learn more about the ongoing archaeological work.

[h/t The New York Times]