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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Back to the gardens

The world continues to take baby steps toward reopening after quarantine. For Janeites, the latest encouraging sign is that the gardens of Chawton House will reopen this weekend.

Like everything else in Britain, Chawton House – the mansion in Hampshire, England, once owned by Jane Austen’s brother -- has been shut down since March, when the UK government instituted a lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

But now the government is (controversially) easing lockdown conditions, and starting Saturday visitors will be able to return to Chawton’s gardens, although not to the house or to its library of early English writing by women.

To maintain social distancing, garden visitors will have to book online in advance and promise to arrive during either a morning or an afternoon timeslot. A one-way route around the gardens will be marked, the tearoom will offer takeout only, and the too-close-for-coronavirus-comfort gift shop will migrate to an outdoor stall.

Channeling Mary Poppins, the Chawton House website admonishes everyone to behave appropriately, for the good of us all. “If visitors cannot keep to these rules Chawton House will be forced to close,” it chides. “You will take away a source of wellbeing from a community that cares for it and put the future of the charity at risk.”

Consider your knuckles pre-rapped! Of course, if you’re the disobedient type, you can always check out the gardens from the comfort of home, via the videos created a month ago during Chawton’s Virtual Garden Festival.


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