Garden News Blog

Garden Plants in Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women follows the lives of four sisters during the American Civil War. The March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—write stories, work at various jobs, fall in love, and share hobbies as they grow from girls to women.

As detailed in Alcott’s book, one of their seasonal hobbies is gardening. Genteel American women like the Marches interacted with plants in many ways in the 1800s. They cultivated gardens and created botanical artwork. Flowers were especially important because a flower could be a message or a way to understand someone’s personality. There were even books about the secret meanings of flowers.

It’s no surprise that Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy had gardens as different as their personalities, and Alcott details each sister’s plot.

Most of the plants the Marches grew can be found at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Look at their choices and consider which would suit your gardening style. Would you plant traditional and lovely roses like Meg, or wild sunflowers like Jo? Perhaps you adore sweet peas like sweet and gentle Beth, or would prefer a charming and graceful bower like Amy.

Meg

Meg’s had roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it.

Roses

The Cranford Rose Garden has a variety of beautiful and colorful roses in the spring and summer. What color roses do you think Meg chose?

Heliotrope

This dainty ‘Marine’ heliotrope can be found in the Fragrance Garden in the summer.

Orange Tree

Can you spot these bright oranges fruiting in the Conservatory?

Jo

Jo’s bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always trying experiments. This year it was to be a plantation of sun flowers, the seeds of which cheerful and aspiring plant were to feed Aunt Cockle-top and her family of chicks.

Sunflower

Keep an eye out for these bright willow-leaved sunflowers in the Plant Family Collection.

Beth

Beth had old-fashioned fragrant flowers in her garden, sweet peas and mignonette, larkspur, pinks, pansies, and southernwood, with chickweed for the birds and catnip for the pussies.

Sweet Pea

Sweet peas like these in the Fragrance Garden bloom in late spring.

Mignonette

Find these tall white mignonettes swaying in the wind in the Herb Garden under the summer sun.

Pinks

Pinks, which refer to several members of the Dianthus genus, can be found among the roses in the Cranford Rose Garden.

Pansies

Varieties of this classic garden flower can be found throughout the Garden, including in the Annual Border. What other colors do they come in?

Chickweed

As the name says, this plant is a weed. It’s also edible, making it a perfect nibble for birds.

Amy

Amy had a bower in hers, rather small and earwiggy, but very pretty to look at, with honeysuckle and morning-glories hanging their colored horns and bells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall white lilies, delicate ferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants as would consent to blossom there.

Honeysuckle

Dainty honeysuckles can be found in the Plant Family Collection in the spring.

Morning Glory

Most commonly pink and purple, morning glories are climbers. Imagine them climbing the bower!

Lily

Lilies of many colors, such as pink and orange, are found all around the Garden in summer. These white lilies can be spotted in the Plant Family Collection.

Fern

The Garden has all kinds of ferns, both indoors and outside. You can find this interrupted fern in the Native Flora Garden.

Alvina Lai was a photographer at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

    Discussion

  • Bonnie Wong February 15, 2020

    I’m reading Little Women right now, and loved the description of the sisters’ different gardens.  Would it be possible for the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to plant a Little Women summer garden ?  The Shakespeare garden is incredible, and another literary garden, honoring an American classic by a female author, would be so fun.

    Please consider it!

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Image, top of page:
Rose Garden
Cranford Rose Garden in full bloom. Photo by Steven Severinghaus.
'Marine' Heliotrope
Heliotropium arborescens 'Marine' (heliotrope) in the Fragrance Garden. Photo by Alvina Lai.
Orange
Citrus cultivar (orange) fruiting in the Conservatory. Photo by Michael Stewart.
Willow-Leaved Sunflower
Helianthus salicifolius (willow-leaved sunflower) blooming in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Michael Stewart.
Black Sweet Pea
Lathyrus odoratus 'Midnight' (sweet pea) in the Fragrance Garden. This cultivar's flowers are very aromatic when they first open. Photo by Blanca Begert.
White Mignonette
Reseda alba (white mignonette) in the Herb Garden. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Dianthus
Dianthus species in the Cranford Rose Garden. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Pansy
Viola x wittrockiana 'Jolly Red Gold' (pansy) in the Annual Border as part of BBG's Children's Garden 100th anniversary celebrations. Photo by Morrigan McCarthy.
Chickweed
Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of the first weeds to appear in the spring. Photo by Saara Nafici.
Mongolian Honeysuckle
Lonicera maackii f. podocarpa (Mongolian honeysuckle) in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Morning Glory
Ipomoea purpurea (morning glory). Photo by Saara Nafici.
Regal Lily 'Album'
Lilium regale 'Album' (regal lily) in the Plant Family Collection. Photo by Morrigan McCarthy.
Interrupted Fern
Osmunda claytoniana (interrupted fern) in the Native Flora Garden. Photo by Blanca Begert.