An avid observer, Emily Dickinson began showing an interest in botany when she was 9 years old. She loved to help her mother in the family garden, which contained quite an extensive variety of flowers. When she went away to school at Mt. Holyoke, she was encouraged by the principal and founder of the school to create an herbarium. Emily went on to collect, press and classify 424 flowers from the Amherst region. The leather bound album she pressed and posted them in survived and has been digitized by Houghton Library at Harvard University. You can access it here Harvard Mirador Viewer. You can also tour the Homestead gardens at Dickinson’s family home in Amherst, MA. Although I haven’t yet been, it’s definitely on my “post Covid – when we can finally travel safely again” list of places to visit.
Emily often sent flowers with her letters to friends and family and gifted them on birthdays and occasion of deaths and illnesses. A large number of her poems contain references to them. According to Judith Farr, author of The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, one-third of Dickinson’s poems and half of her letters mention flowers, with the rose taking first place for most mentions. Pictured below is a page from Emily’s Herbarium and today’s Carol and Emily poem, which tells of one particular rosebush that she kept as a secret for herself and the bees.