How would your garden perform under the Jane Austen taste test?

So while bed-bound with covid last week, I wallowed in some culture and read Jane Austen’s Emma, having heard from a reliable source that it eclipses the better known, and perhaps better loved, Pride and Prejudice.

Well into the story, Emma, along with a party of friends, visits Donwell, the house and garden of her neighbour, Mr Knightly.

Try as I might, I can’t figure out what could be disputable about the taste on display from an avenue of limes that terminates in a pillared gap through a low stone wall, overlooking a view. Is it the fact that it was a ‘fake’ entrance?  Is it the fact that the avenue aligned with pillars in a stone wall, and was therefore simply too obvious – a gauche cliche?

Indeed, for at least the last couple of hundred years, such a scene would have been considered the height of good taste and charming restraint.

My best attempt at finding a similar ‘taste-failure’ in my photo library. The above is at Hampton Court, and if the gates were open at the end, revealing a view, and the wall a bit lower, it wouldn’t be far from where my imagination goes upon reading Austen’s description. Maybe the cover pic, at the very top, is closer to how you see it, in this case with a beech avenue terminated by a gate at Hidcote

What do you reckon?  Wherein lay Mr Knightly’s landscape faux pas?

And how well do you reckon your garden would survive the Jane Austen taste test?

Tall pillars in a lowish wall overlooking a view, terminating a clipped avenue of hornbeam at Hidcote. Tasteless, eh, Miss Austen?


  1. Oh how wonderful it would be to have the space to create an avenue such as any of these pictured or those described! One can only dream…..

    1. Or have you thus been saved from making a truly embarrassing statement of low taste?

  2. Sent from Mail for WindowsI have always loved this passage, especially the bit about the pleasure of becoming hot and then growing cool. The farm at the base of the slope in a sheltered valley ‘ washed by a stream and with its orchard in bloom” seems a perfect ending to the view from my point of view. Perhaps this was considered a bit pedestrian for the times, especially Mrs Elton!   As I am on a quarter acre block ,I have no such extent of land. However, a very sunny spot to sit and a cool shady area that gets the sea breeze gives  us the delightful change in atmosphere even if we are just walking from one end of the back garden to another.  
    I also loved the description of the building as having many comfortable rooms, and a few handsome ones. This could be seen as disparaging comment,but for me it gives a sense of peaceand gentleness. the best taste of all for me As the perception of all “good taste” is wrapped in social standing,I think the question is are you a Knightley or an Elton?Knightley and hobbits for me.

  3. Cannot help thinking that JA might have thought it a bit pretentious to have a “pseudo-entrance” despite acknowledging the artistic merit of framing the view. And it gives the readers yet another reminder that Mr. Knightly is rich enough and his grounds large enough to be able to do this. BTW great photos of avenues !

    1. Spot on I think Irene.

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