7. The Homestead: Conservatory

A photograph of wooden shelves stacked with bright green plants in terracotta pots. Between two plants rests a copper watering can with a long spout.

When Edward Dickinson, a successful attorney, reacquired the Homestead in 1855, he embarked on a major renovation. He added trendy features like the cupola, marble fireplaces, French doors, and for his daughters, a small conservatory for growing plants. Emily called it “the little garden within.”

The conservatory was a small rectangular addition to the sunny southeast corner of the house. Inside the house one entered the conservatory through a door in the library, since replaced by a window. The interior dining room windows could be opened so that heat from the interior would drift out, protecting the plants from freezing. Inhale, and you can almost smell the fragrance.

My flowers are near and foreign, and I have but to cross the floor to stand in the Spice Isles. The wind blows gay today and the Jays bark like Blue Terriers. (L315)

White shelves lined the walls, and there were hooks for hanging baskets. Imagine stepping into the conservatory and being surrounded by plants – green, and blooming.  

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In the following exerpt from one of Emily Dickinson’s letters, she describes the plants she tended in her conservatory:

Crocuses come up, in the garden off the dining room…and a fuchsia that pussy partook, mistaking it for strawberries. … we have primroses - like the little pattern sent in last winter’s note - and heliotropes by the aprons full, the mountain colored one - and a Jessamine bud, you know the little odor like Lubin, - and gillyflowers, magenta, and a few mignonette and sweet alyssum bountiful, and carnation buds. (L279)

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