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Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  137 ratings  ·  45 reviews
“A visual treat as well as a literary one, Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life will be deeply satisfying for gardeners and garden lovers, connoisseurs of botanical illustration, and those who seek a deeper understanding of the life and work of Emily Dickinson.” —The Wall Street Journal

Emily Dickinson was a keen observer of the natural world, but less well known is the fact t
Hardcover, 268 pages
Published October 1st 2019 by Timber Press
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3.5 Stars

This begins by going through the seasons, opening with Early Spring, and ending with Winter, but separated into more than the four seasons, alone. The author takes you on a literary walk through Amherst and invites you to stand in front of the Homestead, using your imagination to see it as it once was in the mid-1800’s. From here you could see Amherst College and imagine how this landscape appeared those many years ago. Before streetlights, or paved roads, be
Literary Soirée
This gorgeous book is a literary and gardening delight!

It uniquely reflects Dickinson’s life through her love of gardening, with lush photos and illustrations, as well as excerpts from her poetry and letters.

Even includes ideas for growing a poet’s garden, along with a list of the plants Dickinson actually used in hers. 5/5

Pub Date 01 Oct 2019.
Thanks to the author, Timber Press and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine.

Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you love anything Emily Dickinson, then this book will further your love not only for her poetry, but also her life’s connection to her plants. This book was much more than I anticipated. It was divided into parts: Dickinson’s life as a gardener throughout the seasons and a visitor’s guide to the Museum and the Dickinson landscape. Each part was well written and extremely detailed. It was accompanied by many illustrations and photos which captured the beauty of Dickinson’s love of plants.
Kelli Roberts
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a really lovely book! Anyone who is interested in Emily Dickinson, gardening, or New England/Massachusetts history will enjoy it. Combining photos and details about the plants in Emily Dickinson's garden and her care for them, snippets of her poetry, and a look into life at that time, it is beautifully illustrated and designed and gives a great deal of information. I have a great love of Emily, her poetry, and Western Massachusetts, and this is a perfect book to complement these interest ...more
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I purchased Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life by Marta McDowell as part of my reading about Emily Dickinson as I developed a quilt.
This is a gorgeous book, from the cover and the end papers to the illustrations that fill the pages.

McDowell incorporates Dickinson's poems flawlessly.

Readers are taken on a year-long journey into the garden, from early spring to winter, each season telling a part of Emily's life journey.

It was a joy to read, an escape from lock-down in the early spring, an inspir
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is an absolute delight. I received it as an e-book from NetGalley (many thanks) but it’s really one to own and treasure as an actual book, one to refer to again and again. I don’t read a lot of Emily Dickinson, although I do enjoy her work, nor am I a gardener, although I enjoy looking at flowers and plants as much as anyone, but this book is something special and I defy anyone not to take pleasure from it. Acclaimed primarily as a great poet, Emily Dickinson was also a keen gardener, ...more
Aug 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I LOVED this concept for a book (nature and literature, my two favourite things). I read a few of Dickinson's poems back in university and they just didn't click with me, but after reading this book, I want to read them again with this new perspective. I knew nature was her muse, but I didn't know much about her personal life and after reading a bit of it from this book, I feel more connected to the author so I'm now more curious about her writing and what it will reveal. I thought this book wou ...more
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Before reading McDowell's book, I had only a passing interest in Dickinson's poetry. Some of her poems I liked, but mostly I felt adrift when reading them, knowing they held lovely secrets, but not being able to unlock them. This book opened my eyes to the botanical elements in Dickinson's poems and helped me understand the language she was writing in - the language of flowers, bees, birds, trees, and seasons. I also feel inspired to get out into my own garden and spend more time with it. My gar ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this immensely! I have been a Dickinson fan for almost 20 years now! My dad gave me a book of poetry when I was 12 and there was something so lovely in her words. Living close to where she grew up now has been a special treat (New England is a gem of a place to live). Her words sink deep into my soul, as I seem to prefer plants over people and solitude. It was wonderful to see her written about in a different light than what was taught in school growing up. I got this from the library ...more
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Confession: I have been a huge Emily Dickinson fan forever. In high school, I dressed up like her on her December 10th birthday. Before I met a former boss, I learned she was an Emily Dickinson fan too, and low key stalked her until she hired me (We’re still friends; I wasn’t that creepy). And I planned to name a daughter Emily before the name became popular.

Sooo...I had to read this newly re-released book about Emily Dickinson’s gardening life. I knew I would be hypercritical, but! There was n
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gardening and poetry--who could ask for anything more? The visuals in this book help to truly put an image to some of Emily's more intriguing figures of speech. It also gives a glimpse into what life was like in 19th-century New England. The author has clearly done her homework.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the digital ARC!
I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.

A new perspective on one of America’s most enigmatic literary figures

Emily Dickinson is among the most important of American poets, a beloved literary figure whose short, complex life continues to fascinate readers. But she was also an avid garde
Maurynne  Maxwell
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: newspaper, blogger, nonfic
This reader finds hope and solace in troubling times through both nature and literature, so what better book to try than this combination of both. I’d checked the book out of the library before deciding whether to add it to my personal collection, so extended checkout has enabled me to decide. Exploring Emily’s gardens in Amherst is also a bit of fantasy reading for desert rats, since many of the mentioned plants do not thrive here, and snow blankets boggle the mind. Hollyhocks are August blooms ...more
Paisley Green
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I didn't know what to expect going in to this book. I'm familiar with Emily Dickinson's work, but not much about her biography (except for a vague idea of her being an unappreciated recluse). This book totally exceeded my expectations.

McDowell not only delves into Emily Dickinson's garden, but how her interactions with plants and her study of botany, a "woman's subject," heavily influenced her writing. Organized by season, each section takes us through the kinds of plants and flowers Dickinson
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I will say that I am not a huge poetry fan, but I am a gardener who loves a good story. Marta McDowell's book, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, roped me in as a fan for life, so I was excited to receive an advanced reader copy of this book about Emily Dickinson.

Her research is thorough and she intertwines the author's life, writings, and gardens beautifully. As the book is dividend among the seasons, I would prefer to read it in multiple sittings, perhaps with rain and a cup of tea, or on the pa
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Written by Marta McDowell in 2018, Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life is a superbly lovely book. The textured paper jacket is beautifully done, and when slipped off you are charmed with an imprint of a golden envelope holding flower seeds blowing upward. But that is only the initiation, upon opening the book you see a lime green floral print flyleaf. And I must confess I can never resist the charm of designed flyleafs. The book's pages themselves are sturdy papered; I loved that as I turned the pa ...more
April Gray
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What an absolutely lovely book! Here, we're offered a detailed look into a big part of Emily Dickinson's life- her gardens. We go through a typical year in the life of the gardens, season by season, with photos of the Homestead and surrounding areas both now and then, details about the lives of Emily, her family, and her friends, beautiful botanical illustrations, excerpts of personal letters, glimpses inside Emily's herbarium, and of course, Emily's poetry, with each poem highlighting the text ...more
Patrice Todisco
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A garden exists in a place, whether discovered or familiar. For Emily Dickinson, that place was a stately Federal-style house in Amherst, Massachusetts. The axis of her world, it is where she lived, wrote, and nurtured her passion for plants, compiling the herbarium of 424 flowers referenced in her poetry. Combining Emily’s poems, excerpts from letters, contemporary and historical photographs, and the story of the garden’s restoration in Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life, Marta McDowell invites t ...more
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
An absolutely gorgeous book, filled with historic illustrations of the flowers Emily and her family grew, selections from her dried flower collection, and both historic and modern photography of Amherst and the Dickinson Homestead. The book is sectioned off into "seasons," a very creative way of organizing the narrative of Emily's life to go along with the seasons her gardens went through. The author peppers the text with Dickinson's poetry and selections from letters that discuss her love for n ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My personal feelings are that this wonderful compilation, of the many facets of Emily Dickinson's life, is worth 5 stars. Was it perfect in its perspective? No. But this was a great read on many levels. I love gardening, poetry, historical writings, and seeing architecture and clothing from different periods. Portraying Emily's poetry in this type of setting really helps us to know the person she was, and how her life affected her writing. Like many other writers that I have researched, she coul ...more
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Three books in one! This fascinating account of the life of Emily Dickinson portrays her life long obsession with her gardening and all that she could grow in it. This is accompanied with some of her beautiful garden-inspired poetry and a list of all the plants and flowers cultivated by the Dickinsons. Following the introduction the book is divided into two sections: The Turning of the Year, taking you through the garden in each season starting with Spring, and A Poet's Gardens giving advice on ...more
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Beautiful book with loads of poems, photos, botanical illustrations.... Well researched and informative too with lists of plants and trees planted and to plant yourself. Maybe because it was all these things—ambitious in its scope— I sometimes felt the writing was a bit choppy, moving too quickly from poem to next thing or simply in the paragraphs themselves from sentence to sentence. Even so, I did enjoy it and especially liked the parts where she placed the reader (this reader) there at the Di ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This lovely book tells the biography of the famous poet in the framework of a gardening year, and includes some of Dickinson's poems about plants as well as period illustrations and notes about specific varieties that likely grew in her gardens. Beyond including the poems, the author uses quotes from Emily’s letters to liven up the paragraphs and writes careful descriptions of her own that evoke the people, places and plants that surround the Homestead in both the past and present, giving the te ...more
Carol Dass
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley-read, arcs
I have to say that reading this book inspired me to get a book of her poems to read. This book has delightful illustrations. Also, the book has great value just in the historical information it gives about Emily. Many of her poems were linked to flowers and to nature. One of the most fun parts of the book was the chapter about planting a poet’s garden. I would love to do that!
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a fan of her poetry, I was intrigued to read about a different side of Emily Dickinson. This book does that well. I enjoyed reading about her letters and her poems dealing with different flowers, and I also liked hearing more about her family. Images are wonderful here, and I also liked how the book is set up with the different seasons as showing progression. An enjoyable book for fans of her poetry and also for fans of horticulture. Highly recommend this book.
Denice Langley
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm always looking for background stories on my favorite authors and this one sounded very interesting. I love gardening and flowers so thought I'd see how my tastes compared to Emily Dickinson's. The book is very entertaining with lovely gardening sets. This is one book you'll return to many times.

I really hate it when the publisher decides to only make the galley available as a digital download.
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book, a delight for poetry lovers and gardeners alike. The illustrations are lovely. The research is vast and well presented. Most striking is how well the author’s language matches Dickenson’s, picturesque, lyrical and concise. I will definitely add the hard copy to my collection when it’s released.

Thanks to the author, Timber Press and NetGalley for the review copy.
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love Emily Dickinson and I love gardening this means this book was a sort of Heaven send.
I loved the mix of poetry, text, gardening advice and the lovely pictures.
It must be great in hard cover format and a perfect present.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Hmm. I think if I was more of a gardener, I'd be more thrilled with this. As it was, it was fun to skip ahead to look at pictures and poems. Maybe I'll enjoy this more over time. I dunno. I wanted to read this to get to know Dickinson's poems better. I'd recommend looking for other books if you want an intro.
On the whole, it's a very well-crafted, loving book. It just wasn't quite my thing.
Andrea Engle
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-read-2019
Part Dickinson biography, gardening manual, Amherst history, and slim volume of poetry, McDowell’s book is a delight ... beautifully illustrated, with a respectable bibliography ... inspires one to visit the poet’s home in Amherst ...
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I live, garden and write in Chatham, New Jersey where I share my garden with my husband, Kirke, assorted wildlife and approximately 10,000 honey bees. You will often find me at the New York Botanical Garden, where I teach landscape history and gardening courses. My new book, All the Presidents' Gardens, is coming out from Timber Press in October 2016. (I'm excited!) When I'm not gardening I like t ...more

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