Emily Dickinson and Cherry Ingram – Different Passions

  • Post published:01/08/2020
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Emily Dickinson (1830-1883) and Collingwood Cherry Ingram (1880-1981) were both gardeners, but lived at different times with very different gardens. Two new books, Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell(Timber Press $24.95) and Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of The Planthunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Naoko Abe (Knopf  $27.95) take us into different worlds.

We who live so close to Emily Dickinson’s home may be familiar with Dickinson’s poetry which included plants and flowers, but we may not know very much about her Amherst gardens. In a revision of an earlier book McDowell shares the history of the Homestead where Dickinson spent most of her life with her parents and sister Lavinia, as well as The Evergreens next door where her brother Austin, his wife Susan and their children lived.

Having set the scene she lays out the seasons of the year in Dickinson’s garden. I used to imagine the pale waiflike Emily wandering and whispering in the halls of her home – except when she was writing poems at the desk by her bedroom window. McDowell paints a very different picture. Her young Emily wandered in the woods with the huge dog, Carlo, her father gave her. As often as not she and Carlo came home muddy, but carrying wildflowers that she pressed and put in her own herbarium.

Through the seasons, McDowell includes Emily’s poems, photographs of herbarium  pages and delicate drawings and paintings of flowers by Orra White Hitchcock and others. We get a view of Emily not only through her poetry, but through her letters. Happily some letters have been found and collected providing more insights into her thoughts and view of the world.

Many of the poems describing the seasons of the year are included from the spring pansy: “I’m the little Heart’s Ease!/I don’t care for pouting skies!/If the buttery delay/Can I, therefore, stay away?” and continuing until winter when “There is a certain Slant of light,/Winter Afternoons – / That oppresses like the Heft/of Cathedral tunes.”

The book ends with the Visiting a Poet’s Garden chapter. It includes brief information about those who lived in the house after the Dickinsons, and the restoration of the house, which now would look very familiar to all the Dickinsons. There is also an informative list of all of Emily’s plants. Notes about each plant accompany information about the herbarium and poems listed for each flower.

The book is an absolute treasure trove. I can’t wait for spring and another visit to the Dickinson Homestead. It has been a while since I was there last. Thank you Marta McDowell!


Emily Dickinson was very much a homebody. British Collingwood Ingram was devoted to cherry trees and travelled to Japan, visiting cherry tree groves around ancient temples. He often requested scions of the various sakura (as the tree was named in Japan) and sent them to his own gardens in England.

By the time he visited Japan little attention was being paid to the sakura trees. There was general confusion about the names of the varieties and little realization that the diversity of the trees was declining. Fortunately, after WWI Ingram studied Japanese trees, especially the sakura and became expert. In 1926 he travelled to Japan and became involved with the Cherry Association , meeting many Japanese experts. He met Seisaku Funatsu, a member of the Association who had noticed the decline of the Sakura, caused in part by pollution from factories and motor cars. Other Japanese sakura experts also recognized the problem and worked with Ingram.

One of the trees that was rescued and became popular is the wild cherry, now known as the Sargent cherry tree which is now popular in the US.

Ingram began sending scions back to his English garden and had them grafted onto his own cherry rootstocks. This worked very well. Two of the cherries in his garden were already extinct in Japan. He continued his determination to learn all he could, and collect as many varieties as possible, bringing them back to his own garden so that he could return them to Japan.

Author Naoko Abe also provides brief descriptions in the shift in the culture of the Japanese. Japan made efforts to catch up with the west, desired to abolish the class system and send all children to school, but it was not easily done. Abe does not ignore the move toward militarization and the Second World War.

The history of Ingram and his sakura did not end with his death. The current Duke of Gloucester is a Patron of the Japan Society and has arranged to plant 6500 of three Japanese sakura varieties in the United Kingdom’s parks, gardens and schools to celebrate Japan’s relationship with the UK. This is a legacy from the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-2020.

Both books share the fascinating stories of two very different people, both of whom have made a mark on our world today.


Still time to buy a floral calendar for 2020 with beauty and information from the UMass Extension Service. Go to www.umassgardencalendar.org. Cost is $14.

Between the Rows  December 21, 2019



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