‘Edward is very well and enjoys himself as well as any Hampshire born Austen can desire. – He talks of making a new Garden…’
Jane Austen, 1813
Jane Austen was a frequent visitor to the estate, and some believe Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey in Austen’s Emma was modelled upon Chawton House.
The grounds have been restored to the English Landscape style popularised by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the late eighteenth century, with an informal lawn and open views across the estate, including a ‘ha-ha’ (a ditch that is invisible from the distance to keep grazing animals back from the house without spoiling the view).
The south lawn leads to a lime avenue that provides distant views into the parkland beyond, as well as a ‘wilderness’ (a wooded area that appears natural while in fact being planted and tended, a feature that dates back to the seventeenth century).
The gardens feature two terraces both of which were built by Montagu Knight in the early 1900s and bear evidence of the influence of Sir Edwin Lutyens who was a close friend.
At the highest point of the grounds is the Walled Garden, built by Edward Austen, and referred to in Jane Austen’s letters (though sadly, she died before its completion). The newest addition within the Walled Garden is the Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden, inspired by Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (1737-9), a guide to different plants and their uses in medicine. This remarkable work includes Blackwell’s detailed engravings, which she individually hand-coloured. The proceeds from this endeavour secured her husband’s release from debtor’s prison.
The gardens also feature a Fernery and a Shrubbery – the latter was typically where the ladies of the house would take their exercise in Jane Austen’s time.
‘One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.’
Mrs Bertram in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, 1814
See spectacular footage of Chawton House’s gardens whilst Dr Kim Simpson and Dr Stephen Bending discuss the importance of landscapes in Jane Austen’s novels. This video was created as part of the online course ‘Jane Austen: Myth, Reality and Global Celebrity’, run by University of Southampton. If you wish to join the course for free then click here.