Jeremy Knight (Edward Austen's third great grandson), shares his memories of over forty years living at Chawton House on the ancestral estate where Jane Austen herself lived and wrote, with the month of May.
"I have always loved being outdoors. As a child I spent a lot of time in almost all weathers roaming the grounds, climbing trees, inventing games and observing nature.
I learnt when the chicks were hatching and in May the parent birds busily searched for food - caterpillars, moth larvae and bugs. The swallows nested in the woodshed, but the other birds would be all about the woods. Deer, badger, foxes and rabbits left tracks where they regularly made their way through the grounds. Foxes would use any track, but the other animals seemed to use only their own.
There were plenty of places a child could wander. The walled garden with its beautiful ornamental gates which kept out the deer and rabbits; the rose garden with many varieties of old fashioned climbing roses and opposite that an area which had once been quite ornamental and still had large clumps of different types of bamboo. There were two 6ft stone statues, Adam and Eve, with a stone snake curled up at Eve’s foot. We moved the statues to the bottom of the library terrace in the 1970s. In other parts of the garden were the rockery, the fernery, the laurel wood and the wilderness.
The top terrace has lovely views down the lawns, but I was not so interested in the herbaceous borders which lined the terrace. I was happiest in the woods and in May the trees were once again freshly in leaf, with each tree having its own shade of green. Our trees include the traditional English Oak, Beech, Ash, Yew, Elm (no longer growing in the UK due to disease), Tulip tree and Judas tree which grows flowers from the trunk in May before the leaves appear. Sadly, some of the largest trees were lost in the storm in October 1987 so the view from the side of the house up the garden is much more open now.
As an adult I was also very aware of the grass growing and the large areas of lawn I would have to mow, but at least I could take a rest from supplying the fires with wood. I also spent a lot of time in May in the walled garden planting out the seedlings I grew in my greenhouse close to the house.
© Jeremy Knight
You can read more about the Austen Knight family of Chawton in Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage, written by Jeremy's daughter, Caroline Jane Knight.
Caroline is Jane Austen's fifth great-niece and the last Austen to grow up at Chawton House on the ancestral estate where Jane herself lived and wrote. JANE & ME: MY AUSTEN HERITAGE, is available in PAPERBACK, HARDBACK, E-BOOK and AUDIOBOOK at all good online retailers. 15% of any profits made are donated to the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation
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