Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales
Landscape historian and horticulture instructor Marta McDowell knows how to mulch literary biography with botany. Her 2005 Emily Dickinson's Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener entwined the floral and arboreal references in Dickinson's poems with scenes from the poet's life and top-dressed them with present-day cultivation advice. When a chance visit to Hill Top Farm awakened McDowell to the talents of Beatrix Potter, she was inspired to produce an even more floriferous (and critter-cute) hybrid.
Divided into three main sections, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life documents Potter's formation as a gardener and author-illustrator, describes her gardens in the Lake District through four seasons and concludes with suggested Potter pilgrimages that range from the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardens in South Kensington (where Beatrix roamed as a child) through a holiday residence in Scotland to her beloved Hill Top Farm.
Unlike many gardening gloss-fests, the dimensions of Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life will not give you off-season tendinitis, nor will you need to know the Latin names of plants to follow its woody and herbaceous twists. McDowell balances her deeply researched text with a bumper crop of archival photos, Potter watercolors and recent four-color images that make her book equally good for browsing and burrowing; her writing style is both diverting and authoritative. In addition to the excellent main index, McDowell includes two intriguing tables: one that substantiates her sources for Potter's cultivars and another that notes the first appearance of individual plants in all of Potter's books, from The Tale of Peter Rabbit onward. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts