In a remote corner of Poland, not far from Szczecin,

we come upon Elizabeth von Arnim and her garden.

It is true, as was once stated on a page of The Garden History Society that in this secluded corner of Poland there is “a piece of English literature and garden legacy associated with the writer Elizabeth von Arnim”. It is not entirely true that it has remained undiscovered. In this secluded corner, the Poles have recently erected a monument in memory of the writer. Maybe you are aware of another one somewhere in the world? 

For three years now, in the Municipality called today by the name of Dobra, a Festival of Roses has been taking place under the patronage of the English writer. Maybe you know of another festival inspired by her person? Elizabeth von Arnim (née Mary Annete Beauchamp), Russell after the second husband, the writer forgotten for dozens of years, for almost three decades now has been winning hearts of a new generation of readers around the world. Thus it has materialised what in 1941 wrote a British novelist Hugh Walpole after hear death: “I think that one or two of her novels shall remain as small classics”. And so it is although not quite so since all her novels keep appearing in various languages of the world. “The name of that lady is Mary Countess Russell – but for all of us she will remain the author of “Elizabeth and her German Garden,” Walpole also wrote. And as it later turned out – prophetically, since “Elizabeth and her German Garden” and “Enchanted April”, more than others, in recent years have been the most frequently published. Apart from those, also “The Solitary Summer”, “The Benefactress”, “The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen”, “The Pastor’s Wife”, “All the Dogs of My Life” and others, which during the lifetime of Elizabeth von Arnim enjoyed great popularity among readers, and which you, present-day fans of the writer’s work – recommend to each other as interesting reads.

Many of you – dedicated fans of Elizabeth von Arnim’s work – still keep asking about the place, where her first novel “Elizabeth and her German Garden” came into being and which is inspiring today multitudes of lovers of flowers and gardens. Therefore we, the inhabitants of those localities, feel obliged to inform whom it may concern that the former village of Nassenheide – where the English wife of a German land owner Henning von Arnim was born to be a writer - since 1945 (after World War Two) is situated on the Polish side of the border and is called by the name of Rzędziny. A small distance separates it from the nearest city which also had its name changed after the War from Stettin to Szczecin.

„There I was standing, feeling the same pure delight at the first breath of springtime as once in my childhood, and the five lost years fell off me like a coat and the world was filled with hope. And since that time I have been happy.”- wrote Elizabeth in her debut novel about her life in the countryside of Pomerania, which she had seen for the first time in her life in March 1896. First, she saw there a park turned desolate, which she later transformed together with the adjacent garden into her “heavenly kingdom”. Today the park is still there as well as over-a-hundred-year-old trees that would witness the writer taking a stroll below.

The great manor house of the Arnims - “of grey stone, with numerous gable walls with an unending labyrinth of corridors” – which Mrs von Arnim left in 1909 on parting with her husband and moving with her five children to London, was destroyed by bombs dropped by Allied bombers. In 1944 they would bomb a synthetic petrol plant in the nearby Police, where in World War Two in inhuman conditions there worked and died tens of thousands of prisoners from the countries seized by the German Third Reich.  From the old manor there remained fragments of a few steps of an old veranda on which the countess would sit writing and run down time and again to her garden and park to enjoy moments of solitude there and look for inspiration. One can imagine what her “heavenly kingdom” looked like viewing the coloured illustrations by Simon Vedder which decorated the editions of “Elizabeth and her German garden” from the early 20th century. One of them shows Elizabeth sitting with a book by a stream and it is with great pleasure that we inform all prospective searchers for the writer’s traces that after 100 years the same stream still separates the eastern limit of the park from the fields. And the ancient oak trees and hornbeams are standing there.

What else has remained to this day from those years? The village that the writer described in her second novel “The Solitary Summer”.  On one side of the street there still stands an old farm building, and on the other side a few one-storey houses from the 19th century. Undoubtedly, one of them was entered one day by Countess von Arnim to see “her friends – farm workers” by whose houses she saw “timber stolen from our forest”.

There remains the building of the old school which she opened in a ceremony in 1896 and also the former administrator’s house, a ruined distillery built by the writer’s husband, and in the neighbouring village of Buk (formerly, Bock) - a Medieval stone church where she would come for the service. „Once in a fortnight we go for morning prayers at eleven and sit in a kind of separate loge with a room at the back” – as she writes about it in “Elizabeth and her German Garden”. There still remains there a baroque altar from the times of the Countess and the loge with a room at the back.
In from of this church in the spring of 2015, over the bed of roses, which Elizabeth von Arnim loved the most, and which she would plant in great numbers in her garden, there stood her monument. It was erected by the Municipality of Dobra, which decided three years ago to remind the writer unknown here after “Elizabeth and her German garden” was published in a Polish translation. The English lady today is a patron to many events taking place here all the year round - meetings, garden and florist workshops, bicycle rallies, sports tournaments - organised also together with a German partner Municipality of Blankensee on the other side of the border. All this ends up with the Rose Festival – a festive event with an exhibition, with presentations of flowers, mainly roses, to which ladies and gentlemen come in historical outfits. The rose has become the new symbol of the Municipality of Dobra, which this year emphasised its important role as the Patron of Culture publishing the “The Solitary Summer”, being a sequel to “Elizabeth and her German garden”. 
This remote corner of Poland of rich history (traces of prehistorical inhabitants and of a Slavic settlement have been found here along the traces of the 30-year war and others) has been visited for a long time by searchers for traces of the English writer. Even if one feels disappointed by what they find here, they must admit that in the village itself and the park there has still remained something from the climate of the first, mostly autobiographical novels.

“They still keep inspiring” – someone wrote in the Internet. They also inspire people making their own gardens. It cannot be ruled out that one day a fragment of Elizabeth’s garden will be restored here.

Dear fans of Elizabeth von Arnim from Europe, America, Australia and other corners of the globe! Your debates on various forums, bookstore blogs, and even garden blogs are exceedingly interesting as well as inspiring. You share your delight at the surprisingly contemporary-like language of the writer, her inquisitiveness in the assessment of reality and her splendid sense of humour. How many of you – living in various countries – have already written about universal messages in Elizabeth’s novels and with a surprise discovered: „ Aren’t Elizabeth and I very much alike”? How many of you have already said that what she wrote a hundred years ago today “surprisingly, holds true and is surprisingly contemporary”? Very many. Very many of you also took delight in her novels on account of “Downton Abbey” TV series, where a cover was shown of “Elizabeth and her German Garden” – this unusual book containing so much rich content. It will cure the soul, as you write.

It is a joy to read your ideas for this “bit in the corner of Poland”, for what could be in today’s Rzędziny, as well as your ideas for subsequent editions of this writer’s novels. Somebody has had a dream, for instance, to have “Elizabeth and her German Garden” in an audio version read by Maggie Smith, i.e. the wonderful granny, lady Violet from “Downton Abbey”, still someone else writes “It would be interesting to publish the book with illustrations of flowers so vividly depicted by Elizabeth.”

„Isn’t that wonderful? We are discovering Elizabeth together,” –still someone else delights on an Internet forum. Wonderful.

Elżbieta Bruska

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1. One of archive photos showing the writer, a fragment of the house, a sundial on the flower bed.
2. Monument of Elizabeth von Arnim in front of the church in the village of Buk.
3. Photographs from a Festival of Roses organised annually by the Municipality of Dobra, under the patronage of the writer’s spirit.