Never Mind The White Dress, Turns Out Emily Dickinson Had A Green Thumb Archaeologists are working to unearth the poet's original gardens and bring the homestead back to its natural state. The hope is to revive the plants and flowers she vividly described in her poetry.
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Never Mind The White Dress, Turns Out Emily Dickinson Had A Green Thumb

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Never Mind The White Dress, Turns Out Emily Dickinson Had A Green Thumb

Never Mind The White Dress, Turns Out Emily Dickinson Had A Green Thumb

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Here is a little forest whose leaf is ever green. Here is a brighter garden, where not a frost has been - the words of Emily Dickinson. She lived a quiet life in Amherst, Mass., but the poet, who was a recluse, was also an avid botanist. Her museum is re-creating the grounds where she lived in the hope that her fans will now get new insight into her inspiration. New England Public Radio's Karen Brown reports.

KAREN BROWN, BYLINE: The director of the Emily Dickinson Homestead, Jane Wald, opens a book of poems she borrowed from the gift shop.

JANE WALD: It will be summer eventually. Ladies with parasols, sauntering gentleman with canes and little girls with dolls.

BROWN: We're sitting inside the yellow brick house Emily's grandfather built in 1813, in the very room where the famous recluse did her writing. Her original desk is behind a yellow rope and just beyond that is a window onto her yard, where she clearly borrowed images and ideas.

WALD: The wild rose, redden in the blog. The aster on the hill.

BROWN: It's this theme - Dickinson's celebration of nature - that Wald wants people not just to read, but to experience. Why not do that, she thought, by re-creating the poet's physical surroundings, fleshing out her typically dour image?

WALD: To not exactly rescue her - I think that would be a little presumptuous - but to share something of a more three-dimensional existence.

BROWN: Which is why the museum is working with archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts to help reconstruct the 14-acre grounds, just as they appeared during Dickinson's lifetime, from the family barn to Emily's outdoor flowerbeds. Last year, the museum recreated the family's heirloom apple and pear orchard, which had been replaced long ago by a tennis court.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Here's a brick. There are two more bricks here.

BROWN: Next, they'll re-create a glass conservatory, the great house where scholars believe Emily Dickinson composed many of her almost 1,800 poems. It was dismantled in the early 20th century, but the pieces remain underground.

CARRIE LYNCH: This rubble is definitely construction base, so that's really cool.

BROWN: UMass archeologist Carrie Lynch leads the team of students and professionals who are kneeling with trowels, scraping out several test pits in a grassy area just outside the dining room window.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Here's one new one poking up that looks also like a foundation stone.

LYNCH: Yeah, 'cause even what little we can see - it looks like it might be cut.

BROWN: So far, they've unearthed a few layers of foundation that will help determine how big to build the new conservatory. And in the process, while sifting through soil, archaeologist Dan Zoto says they found bits of ceramic pots, a piece of an old hammer and a copper pen cap.

DAN ZOTO: Of course we're hoping it turns out to be Emily's, except I don't think there'd be a way to prove that.

BROWN: After the conservatory is built, the museum will need to fill it. Director Jane Wald says they're looking for the 19th century varieties of flowers and plants Dickinson would have smelled and touched, including exotic species that explorers brought back - resurrection calla lily, cape jasmine, oleander.

WALD: She declared that she only had to cross the floor to be in the Spice Isles.

BROWN: A sign, Wald says, that even if Emily Dickinson rarely left her home, she welcomed the world - at least the natural world - to come to her. By November, the conservatory should be open to the public. And by next summer, after the archaeologists dig for seed remnants and old plant stems, visitors may be able to roam among varieties of asparagus, corn and beans that made up the original Dickinson vegetable garden. For NPR News, I'm Karen Brown.

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