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Mr. Darcy’s Fruit

Michele Larrow, Regional Co-Coordinator

The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of the servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley to Miss Darcy had been given, to remind her of her post.  There was now employment for the whole party; for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches, soon collected them round the table. . . . Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth talked of all that had occurred, during their visit, as they returned, except what had particularly interested them both.  The looks and behaviour of every body they had seen were discussed, except the person who had mostly engaged their attention.  They talked of his sister, his friends, his house, his fruit, of everything but himself; yet Elizabeth was longing to know what Mrs. Gardiner thought of him, and Mrs. Gardiner would have been highly gratified by her niece’s beginning the subject.”

Pride and Prejudice, 309, 312

In Pride and Prejudice, late July and early August are the time of year when the Gardiners and Elizabeth Bennet traveled to Derbyshire and visit Pemberley.  Using textual cues and working backward from Mrs. Gardiner’s letter to Elizabeth dated September 6, Chapman (400-405) convincingly argues that the first trip to Pemberley takes place on August 4 and that Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner go back to visit Geogiana on August 6.  During that visit, they are served “beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches,” (P&P Spacks Ed. 309) in “generous hospitality” (Spacks, note 6, 309).  The purpose of this article is to explore the cultivation of these fruits during the Regency and what the fruit tells us about Pemberley.  For illustrations of the fruit, we will turn to George Brookshaw’s amazing prints in Pomona Britannica (1812).[i]  As always in Austen, the minor details reveal much, especially when we understand the context that a contemporary reader would know.

When Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth tour Pemberley outside, they are shown the park by the gardener.  They see the river, the woods, hills, and walks.  They are not shown any gardens.  Nor are gardens mentioned when Elizabeth looks out of the windows in various rooms in Pemberley.  The focus is all on the woods, hills, and “the disposition of the ground” (285).  As Spacks notes, all the views of Pemberley correspond to the picturesque (note 4, 283 and note 11, 285).  Austen would have counted on her contemporary readers to know what would have gone into the gardens of Pemberley and there is no need to tell them.  However, the fruit that is served at Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner’s visit gives us a clue of the wealth behind the gardens.

Grapes, Nectarines, and Peaches in the Regency Garden

The grapes, nectarines, and peaches at Pemberley are described as “the finest fruits in season”. Spacks in her annotations to Pride and Prejudice note that these fruits must be grown in hothouses (note 8, 309).  If we consult Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie’s The Universal Gardener and Botanist, a 1778 gardening book that we know was in Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight’s Godmersham library in the 1818 catalogue (https://www.readingwithausten.com/catalogue.html),  peaches and nectarines are described as growing best on south-facing garden walls because they need extra heat, with some maturing in late July and August.  James McPhail in a Gardener’s Remembrancer (1807) argues that peaches can only be grown against walls in the southern counties of England and that northern counties need to use glassed houses with extra heat (123-5). McPhails gardens have forcing-houses devoted to peaches and nectarines, called Peach Houses.  Mawe and Abercrombie note that grapes can sometimes be grown against walls but often need heat and protection of glass and usually are in season in September through November.  McPhail wrote that in England grapes need glass to do well above 50degrees latitude.  Thus, since Pemberley is in Derbyshire, the peaches and nectarines would have to be grown in forcing-houses yet are in season in August, and grapes are early for the season in August and certainly grown either in a forcing-house or hot-house.

James McPhail, the head gardener to the Earl of Liverpool at Addiscombe Place in Surrey, details the types of structures that would have been used for growing a variety of fruits and vegetables on a large estate like Pemberley.  Hot-houses were large buildings (80’ long X 16’ wide X 12’ high in back) built to use the heat from the sun, heat from stoves, and heat from pits with fermenting dung and/or tan bark to keep plants at the best temperatures for ripening tropical fruit.  Hot-houses would be kept at high temperatures (often 90s during the day) and were used for plants such as pineapples, some grapes, and French beans, as well as other exotics.  Forcing-houses would produce fruit about two months earlier than fruit grown outdoors, for tree fruits that have a natural year growth cycle.  They were kept at cooler temperatures than hot-houses, but still needed fires to get temperatures into the 70s, for example in March to get peaches ripe for May.  Forcing-houses were used for fruit such as peaches, nectarines, some kinds of grapes, cherries, strawberries, figs, apricots, and flowers such as roses.  According to McPhail, the forcing-houses produce the best fruit when they are dedicated to a specific plant, such as a peach house, a grape house, and a cherry house. He describes his peach house as measuring 64’ long X 10’ wide X 8’ high in the back for 8 trees. Forcing-frames were smaller structures for low-growing plants such as melons, asparagus, herbs, potatoes, and cucumbers and often had heat by fermentation of dung and leaves to produce the fruits and vegetables (187-189).  Green-houses usually did not have fires unless the weather was very cold (180) and would be used to grow plants such as lemon, oranges, myrtles, succulents, and many flowers.  Green-houses could be used to grow seeds and cuttings also.  Because hot-houses, forcing-houses, and green-houses use a lot of glass, they are expensive to build.  The cost of fuel to maintain them is another expense, so having hot-houses and forcing-houses is one sign of Mr. Darcy’s wealth.

In addition to the structures described above, the gardens would include outdoor spaces for plants, sometimes protected by walls.  The fruit-garden consisted of those fruits that could be grown outside against walls (for warmth) or in orchards, such as apples, pears, plums, cherries, gooseberries, currants, strawberries, and raspberries (193-197).  The kitchen garden would be planted with vegetables and herbs that could grow within the season, often staggering the planting times to produce the food over the longest space of time.  The pleasure or flower garden contains walks with lawn, flowering shrubs, evergreen shrubs, and many kinds of flowers in borders.  We can imagine Elizabeth enjoying these spaces once she becomes mistress of Pemeberley.

McPhail’s book goes through each month of the year and details all the work that must be done in each of the garden sections and growing houses.  Pemberley must have employed many people in the garden to accomplish the production of food year-round.  By choosing fruits such as peaches, nectarines, and grapes, which require so much effort and cost to raise, Austen highlights the great garden at work, hidden behind Pemberley.

[i] See the previous blog https://jasnaewanid.org/2022/06/04/pomona-britannica-and-emma/ for a discussion of the original 1812 George Brookshaw book, the reissue of the plates by Taschen in 2002, and the fruits in Emma.  The New York Public Library has digital copies of every plate available for free download.  Several of the plates were downloaded for use here (see illustration list).  The color of the digital copies of the plates was edited and enhanced to come closer to the color of the plates in the 2002 Taschen version.


1. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Red nutmeg, Hemskirk, Early Ann and French Vanguard Peaches.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1812. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-88c6-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

2. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “White sweet water grape.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1812. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-894e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

3. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Vermash, Violette Hative, Red Roman, North scarlet, Ell rouge and the Peterborough nectarines.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1812. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-88e9-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

4. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Black muscadine (grapes).” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1812. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-8931-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

5. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Marlborough, Rumbullion, and the Double mountain peaches.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1812. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-88e0-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Patricia Meyer Spacks. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard U P.

Chapman, R.W. “The chronology of Pride and Prejudice.” In Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. R. W. Chapman, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford U Press.

Mawe, Thomas, and Abercrombie, John. The Universal Gardener and Botanist: Or, A General Dictionary of Gardening and Botany. Exhibiting in Botanical Arrangement, According to the Linnæan System, Every Tree, Shrub, and Herbaceous Plant, that Merit Culture, Either for Use, Ornament, Or Curiosity in Every Department of Gardening … Describing the Proper Situations, Exposures, Soils, Manures, and Every Material and Utensil Requisite in the Different Garden Departments; Together with Practical Directions for Performing the Various Mechanical Operations of Gardening in General. United Kingdom, G. Robinson, 1778.  https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Universal_Gardener_and_Botanist/eMtCAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0 (version from The Ohio State University)

McPhail, James. The Gardener’s Remembrancer Throughout the Year: Exhibiting the Newest and Most Improved Methods … Best Adapted for the Culture of Plants, and Production of Fruits, Flowers, and Esculent Vegetables … to which is Prefixed a View of Mr. Forsyth’s Treatise on Trees. United Kingdom, T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1807. (version from Oxford University)  https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Gardener_s_Remembrancer_Throughout_t/ggoAAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0