Interview with Author, Marta McDowell


Fellow Emily Dickinson Gardeners–Marta McDowell, author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, one of the books this blog is based on, found the site and has graciously answered a few questions for us. If you have any of your own questions for Marta after reading her interview, please ask them in the comments section! She’s a wealth of knowledge!

Hi Marta. I just received your book a couple of weeks ago and I’m LOVING it. What inspired you to write Emily Dickinson’s Gardens?

Marta: In college, I was an American Studies major so studied Dickinson’s poetry. But never really “got it.” Many years later, on a business trip, I was driving solo across MA to visit insurance agencies. I had a spare afternoon and saw a brochure for the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst. Headed up from the Mass. Pike. Got a private tour (I was the only person at the museum that day) and discovered ED’s gardening interests. I was a gardener, this was a connection. It mushroomed from there.

You say in your introduction that “you got to know her” [Emily Dickinson]. How would you describe Emily based upon what you know of her as a gardener?

Marta: ED was a complex person, but a real one. She loved gardening; hated housework. Loved dogs; merely tolerated her sister’s cats. Had a weird family (like the rest of us). Through her plant-related interests, I feel that I got to know a bit about Emily Dickinson the individual.

How has writing this book and getting to know Emily through her garden changed the way you look at life and your own garden? And a follow up to this–is your personal garden at all arranged around hers?

Marta: I’ve planted many of the plants that I studied through her poetry, but my garden is very miscellaneous.

As we’ve been finding as we delve into the wonderful world of Emily’s Gardens, each flower holds a special relationship to her–and is infused with meaning and symbolism–which flower holds the most meaning to you?

Marta: The pansy — especially the little Johnny-jump-ups. Love its little pensive face. Snowdrops a close second. However, I’m quite fickle and my favorites change with the seasons and sometimes the time of day.

Are you presently working on any other books?

Marta: I wrote a book of essays with an artist friend, Yolanda Fundora, called “A Garden Alphabetized (for your viewing pleasure) (available on Amazon) and am working on a second called “Orchidaceous.” I’m an active blogger about my garden, plants, and miscellany ( and you can follow other activities on my website: Also writing an article for the British garden journal Hortus on Emerson and Thoreau and their gardening interests.

Happy Spring!


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