Jane Austen mentions gardens many times in her novels-too many to mention all of them here, but I love this exchange between Mrs Elton and Mr Knightley in Emma who both have very different views about nature and simplicity.
We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees; and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors; a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible. Is not that your idea?”
“Not quite. My idea of the simple and the natural will be to have the table spread in the dining-room. The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house.”
In Sense and Sensibility, gardens are used to help illustrate character traits, both of Elinor Dashwood’s half-brother and her sister Marianne. John Dashwood shows his disregard for the ancient trees that have been a part of the Norland estate, and Elinor knows their removal to satisfy her sister-in-law’s desire for a greenhouse will upset her sister Marianne’s sensibilities deeply.
“Another year or two may do much towards it,” he gravely replied; “but however there is still a great deal to be done. There is not a stone laid of Fanny’s greenhouse, and nothing but the plan of the flower-garden marked out.”
“Where is the greenhouse to be?”
“Upon the knoll behind the house. The old walnut trees are all come down to make room for it. It will be a very fine object from many parts of the park, and the flower-garden will slope down just before it, and be exceedingly pretty. We have cleared away all the old thorns that grew in patches over the brow.”
Elinor kept her concern and her censure to herself; and was very thankful that Marianne was not present, to share the provocation.
In Northanger Abbey General Tilney offers to escort Catherine round the gardens.
The number of acres contained in this garden was such as Catherine could not listen to without dismay, being more than double the extent of all Mr. Allen’s, as well her father’s, including church–yard and orchard. The walls seemed countless in number, endless in length; a village of hot–houses seemed to arise among them, and a whole parish to be at work within the enclosure. The general was flattered by her looks of surprise, which told him almost as plainly, as he soon forced her to tell him in words, that she had never seen any gardens at all equal to them before; and he then modestly owned that, “without any ambition of that sort himself — without any solicitude about it — he did believe them to be unrivalled in the kingdom. If he had a hobby–horse, it was that. He loved a garden. Though careless enough in most matters of eating, he loved good fruit — or if he did not, his friends and children did. There were great vexations, however, attending such a garden as his. The utmost care could not always secure the most valuable fruits. The pinery had yielded only one hundred in the last year.
Later on, when Catherine Morland is forced to come home early by General Tilney, the garden is a place of refuge for our heroine.
Catherine’s disposition was not naturally sedentary, nor had her habits been ever very industrious; but whatever might hitherto have been her defects of that sort, her mother could not but perceive them now to be greatly increased. She could neither sit still nor employ herself for ten minutes together, walking round the garden and orchard again and again, as if nothing but motion was voluntary; and it seemed as if she could even walk about the house rather than remain fixed for any time in the parlour. Her loss of spirits was a yet greater alteration. In her rambling and her idleness she might only be a caricature of herself; but in her silence and sadness she was the very reverse of all that she had been before.
From Pride and Prejudice we have the obsequious Mr Collins.
“The garden in which stands my humble abode, is separated only by a lane from Rosings Park, her ladyship’s residence.”
And I’ll give the last word to Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park.