Withering heights: why the Brontës weren't so in touch with nature after all

The moors shaped their work. But, dear reader, their gardening skills were prosaic at best

Their books and poems – even their paintings – evoke the wild beauty that surrounded them at their remote parsonage home.

Yet although the Brontë sisters could conjure the elemental splendour of the Yorkshire moors with their pens and brushes, it seems they were sadly lacking when it came to cultivating nature on the small plot outside their home.

Research carried out while creating a special Brontë-themed garden for this summer's Chelsea Flower Show has unearthed evidence of the sisters' surprising lack of green-fingered talent.

Researchers at the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth, West Yorkshire, discovered repeated references to the women's horticultural failings.

Among them was one from Charlotte's close friend Emily Nussey who described Haworth in 1871. "The garden, which was nearly all grass, and possessed only a few stunted thorns and shrubs, and a few currant bushes which Emily and Anne treasured as their own bit of fruit garden," she wrote.

Two decades earlier James M Hoppin, an early visitor after the cult of the Brontës began to spread after the publication of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, observed "a small flower garden (though rather run to waste now)".

Meanwhile, Charlotte's celebrated chronicler Elizabeth Gaskell, describes the "great change" endured by the author when she moved to Haworth – "a place where neither flowers nor vege- tables would flourish and where a tree of even moderate dimensions might be hunted far and wide".

Tracy Foster, who is designing The Brontës' Yorkshire Garden on behalf of the regional tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire, conceded that the windswept Pennine conditions were very challenging for both people and plants although the garden flourishes today in the hands of a skilled horticulturalist. "They were obviously very observant and made many comments about individual plants and flowers in their poems and novels and also painted them in exquisite detail so they were obviously very aware," she said.

"But the conditions they had were very difficult and exposed. Maybe they were just too busy producing great literary works to be great gardeners."

The mid-19th century was a thriving time for gardening. The activity had become fashionable among some of the Brontës' better-heeled acquaintances with the arrival of different plant species from far-flung colonies.

Charlotte painted a number of studies of flowers and plants, including wild roses, primulas and even exotic tiger lilies. Her correspondence reveals that Emily, who wrote while sitting on a small stool in the garden, gratefully received seed from Ellen Nussey. Poems such as The Bluebell (The Bluebell is the sweetest flower) and Love and Friendship (Love is like the wild rose-briar) also reveal the women's interest.

The Chelsea garden will have as its centrepiece The Meeting of the Waters – a favourite moorland spot which the sisters would visit as children. Andrew McCarthy, director of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, said: "They were highly attached to the wilderness landscape of the moors rather than the much more cultivated idea of the domesticated garden."

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

PHP Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Develope...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star