I promised my mother I would take her to the highly revered New York Botanical Gardens four summers ago. After some minor transportation issues in past years involving a heat wave and a gypsy cab, I finally came through on that promise and last weekend we took the 20 minute ride on the Metro North Railroad to see the gardens and fulfill my first Summer Bucket List item. As I was checking the Garden’s website for hours and admission (a whopping $20 per person!) I realized that an Emily Dickinson exhibit would be occurring during our visit. Lovely.
Here’s a little secret of mine: I hate Emily Dickinson. I don’t talk about my dislike for her much, so as not to offend my literary friends who adore her. I assume this all started back in high school when we had to analyze her poems in preparation for the A.P. Language exam. Confident in my ability to dissect poems and passages for their literary devices, crack pot Emily Dickinson always gave me pause and a bad grade. My worst fears were realized as I used my #2 pencil to tear open the writing portion of the AP Exam and before me was a prompt to compare and contrast Emily Dickinson poems. So it goes. I discussed her over-personification of Dandelion and got on with the game. (I also resented the fact that she loved dandelions so much because I spent half the time in my parent’s garden trying to make sure those suckers didn’t grow.)
So here we are at the Botanical Gardens and Emily Dickinson is all over the place. The grounds are immaculate and impressive, to the point where the French would be proud. Tucked away in various corners of the garden and pathways were billboard-sized Dickinson poems. Not surprisingly, Dickinson was quite a botanist herself, and more than a third of her poems use her Amherst, Mass. garden as subject matter. The exhibit contains a replica of her house and, since there were no photographs taken of her garden, the curators did their best to recreate Dickinson’s poems using their artistic touch. The Gardens even grew a bed of her beloved dandelions, the first in its history, to make sure all of Dickinson’s friends were accurately accounted for. These are supplemented by foxgloves, hydrangeas, zinnias and daffodils, which likely grew by her home as well.
As we made our way across the colorful grounds, my distaste for Emily began to fade slowly. Each billboard offered more insight into her lifestyle and obsession with gardening. Also, it turns out, we both impatiently await the arrival of summer, which became evident in a couple of her poems. I also respect that the girl had a bit of sass in her, as seen in various quotations sprinkled around the exhibit, “I was reared in the garden, you know.” You and me both, dear. The trek out to the Botanical Gardens was well worth it and provided a very nature-filled escape from the concrete city. The flowering tribute to Dickinson only goes through June 13, so little time remains to see it—and discover that she isn’t as shallow and crazy as you may have once thought!