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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

The great (virtual) outdoors

Fresh off their successful Lockdown Literary Festival earlier this month, the indefatigable folks who run Chawton House, the stately home in Hampshire, England, once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, have another treat in store for us.

This one, I must admit, sounds like an even greater challenge than the multiple-speakers-across-multiple-time-zones feat that was the online literary festival. This time, we won’t be hanging out in the library talking about books; we’ll be strolling through the gardens, talking about plants. Take that, coronavirus!

The extensive grounds of Chawton House feature two terraces, a lime avenue, a wilderness, a fernery, a walled garden, a shrubbery, an herb garden, and even a ha-ha—a veritable feast of fictional and historical associations for dedicated Austen readers, not to mention dedicated green thumbs.

Chawton’s Virtual Garden Festival, coming up on Saturday and Sunday, will include “gardening talks and tips from our Head Gardener Julia and her team of garden volunteers, botanical workshops, discussions with heritage gardeners, and a chance to take part in our virtual ‘best in show,’ ” the website promises. Everything is free, except for online creative writing workshops, which cost £5.

I’m not much of a gardener myself—scratch that; I’m no kind of gardener myself—so I doubt I’ll be able to do much with whatever tidbits of wisdom Head Gardener Julia imparts. Still, even here in New Jersey, this spring’s azaleas and irises are looking unusually vibrant after two months of accidental pollution-reduction. I can only imagine the beauty of the Chawton House gardens. Except now I won’t have to imagine.


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