3. The Homestead: Flower Garden 2

A photograph with a bed of deep purple, pale purple, and white irises in the foreground. In the background, a large tree with spreading branches shades a two-story yellow house.

In childhood I never sowed a seed unless it was perennial – and that is why my Garden lasts. (L989)

When Emily Dickinson wrote this in a letter to a friend, she was speaking metaphorically. Here in the family’s garden, she, Vinnie and their mother grew a great variety of flowering plants: shrubs, climbing vines, annuals, perennials and bulbs. Her poems and letters mention roses, lilacs, peonies, sweet williams, daisies, foxgloves, poppies, nasturtiums and zinnias, among others. 

In a thank you note for a gift of bulbs, she wrote:

I have long been a Lunatic on Bulbs, though screened by my friends, as Lunacy on any theme is best undivulged…They came in happy safety and rest in their subterranean Home. (L823)

Bulbs crossed the seasons in the Dickinson flower garden starting with crocus in early spring followed by daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and summer lilies.


Here is Jane Wald to describe how Dickinson used flowers as metaphor:

"Flowers were a favorite metaphor for Emily Dickinson. She used them in her poems to represent beauty, love, mystery and the whole cycle of life. Roses became 'pygmy seraphs'; a crocus, 'The Vassal of the snow.' Their death in winter and rebirth in spring were her experience of immortality."

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Dickinson’s botanical vocabulary was extensive. In this poem, you’ll hear words like "corolla" and "calyx" that demonstrate her understanding of different parts of a flower:

The Lilac is an ancient Shrub

But ancienter than that

The Firmamental Lilac

Opon the Hill Tonight -

The Sun subsiding on his Course

Bequeathes this final plant

To Contemplation - not to Touch -

The Flower of Occident.

Of one Corolla is the West -

The Calyx is the Earth -

The Capsules burnished Seeds the Stars -

The Scientist of Faith

His research has but just begun -

Above his Synthesis

The Flora unimpeachable

To Time's Analysis -

"Eye hath not seen" may possibly

Be current with the Blind

But let not Revelation

By Theses be detained -


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