The Gardens of Howard’s End


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 neverForster 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
    RosDogrosea 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
    stood sentinel on its margin, or advanced in battallions over
    the grass."  The name "Lent lily" identifies either a white Madonna lilyWychelm 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’sGreengage 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.


  1. A dell is “a small wooded hollow.” In the US we have the Wisconsin Dells. So a dell-hole might be a way to describe the lowest point in a valley (??)

  2. That was absolutely charming!! Very clever of you to focus on the plants in that delightful book, and indeed I wondered about them as I read it, particularly the wych-elm tree. What’s a wych?

  3. Susan, why would a plant that blooms midsummer like Lilium candidum be called a Lent lily? I guess because it’s the flower Gabriel brings Mary at the Annunciation (March 25)?

  4. The dell-hole is also a reference to placement of renowned Scottish/Irish golfing spots FYI…so Pam’s explanation fits right in…and Google confirms. Now I just wish we had a dell-hole! HA!

Comments are closed.