by Anna Post
Susan Catling just wrote a lovely article in Martha's Vineyard Magazine about Emily Post's famous cottage garden at 34 Fuller Street in Edgartown, Massachusetts. I spent summers at this house as a girl until my family sold it in 2000; I continue to go to the island each summer, and always take a bike ride past the house to see the gardens again.
From the cover of coffee table books to Alison Shaw note cards to tourist postcards, Emily's garden has shown its face to the world at large for many, many years. Tour buses used to make it a regular stop, and tourists taking pictures were a daily occurrence.
I feel very lucky to have known her garden from the other side of the fence. I can remember the feel of the moss between the garden walk bricks on my bare feet, and in the evening with the windows open the scent of phlox would drift over you as you fell asleep. I learned how to cut from the garden without disturbing the overall effect from my mom, who would place arrangements throughout the house. Over the years it become a treat, not a chore, to be sent to the garden to cut flowers.
There was a special room between the dining room and kitchen that acted as both bar and china cupboard, and also housed the many vases collected by Emily and my grandparents (her grandson and granddaughter-in-law) over the years. In it was a beautiful old brass sink, now in the bar at my parent's Vermont home, which served as the natural place for arranging flowers. It was a lovely setting to learn how to transform a basket of dahlias, phlox, zinnias, snapdragons, cone flowers, and daisies into arrangements for dining tables, guests' rooms, bedsides, and coffee tables. Emily's garden instilled in me a deep love of flowers, and to this day flowers are an essential part of my weekly budget. (Currently I am enjoying an amazing bunch of yellow double, or "peony", tulips and a small posy of peach ranunculus.)
Next week I will close on my first home, and soon there after will turn my eye to my very first, very own garden. Ms. Catling's article could not have come at a more perfect time, and is a wonderful reminder that Emily was not only an authority on etiquette, but also on architecture, interior design and decoration, and gardening through her lesser-known but well-regarded book, The Personality of a House, published in 1930. I am now deep into the chapter titled, "The House of Charm at Least Expense."
Ms. Catling did her research very, very well. She shares some of Emily's gardening tips from The Personality of a House, as well as notes from Emily's private garden journal. Emily, whose true persona was sometimes lost behind incorrect assumptions of what an etiquette author must be like, comes vividly alive through her notes about her beloved garden.
Emily wrote, “The personality of a house is indefinable, but there never lived a lady of great cultivation and charm whose home, whether a palace, a farm-cottage or a tiny apartment, did not reflect the charm of its owner.” I think Emily's garden shows her to have been a woman of charm indeed.
Alison Shaw photo of Emily Post's garden used with permission.