Hey, let’s all go back and enjoy a different era, a different time of year, a different place, and a bunch of plants we’ve never heard of. All it takes is a visit to the imagined gardens of Howard’s End, the country home of the Wilcox family in the book by E. M. Forster and the movie by Merchant-Ivory Productions, set in Edwardian England. And lucky for us here in the Northern Hemisphere, where it’s starting to look more like Bleak House, Forster describes the garden in springtime.
With Forster as our guide, here are the plants of Howard’s End:
- "A hedge that would be glorious with dog-roses in June". Not even a dog-lover would find this an appealing name for a rose, but it comes by its name honestly. It’s the
Rosa canina, native to Europe, Africa and Asia, used in Medieval
European heraldry and still common in English hedgerows. And we see in the photo that it’s no dog at all.
- "Down by the dell-hole more vivid colors were awakening, and Lent
Lilies stood sentinel on its margin, or advanced in battallions over
the grass." The name "Lent lily" identifies either a white Madonna lily or a daffodil, but since the quote describes a visit in spring, we know Forster’s referring to a daff.
- A prominent wych-elm tree (Uylmus glabra) is mentioned frequently in the book. A typical hedgerow tree, it’s native to Europe and Asia. (Google tells us it’s also the name of a pub. No surprise there – isn’t everything?)
- The greengage-tree is an heirloom species that produces dessert plums. Happily, it’s still available from nurseries in the UK and New Zealand.
- "Tulips were a tray of jewels." Ah, a plant that needs no explanation.
Finally, Foster leaves us with this nice image: "The garden at the back was full of flowering cherries and plums. Farther on were hints of the meadow and a black cliff of pines. Yes, the meadow was beautiful." Shall we take tea in the meadow this afternoon? Lovely idea.
Now about that "dell-hole" – anybody know what the hell that is?
Photos: Forster’s childhood residence in Hertfordshire, the model for Howard’s End; dog-rose; wych-elm; the fruit of greengage-trees.