February 9, 2016
In the winter when it's too cold to garden I usually look over garden catalogs and read books about landscape plants. I just finished reading a book about the gardening life of Beatrix Potter and it was very inspirational.
In the last few years I've learned that the beloved children's author Beatrix Potter was also an accomplished botanist. Although she lacked scientific training or formal acknowledgement, Beatrix was well-studied in plants, especially fungi. She is considered one of the first people to provide evidence of the symbiotic relationship of algae and fungi in lichens. This gave me a whole new appreciation for the author of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit."
So I was thrilled last month when the Orange County Master Gardeners gave me the book "Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life," by Marta McDowell. This book beautifully describes the Victorian author's life in the Lake District of northwest England and her transition from young botanist, to children's book author and illustrator, to impressive horticulturist.
It is heavy with her botanical illustrations, paintings, and photographs of her gardens. My favorite was a watercolor of a white blooming orchid cactus; it looks just like the Epiphyllum cacti that Master Gardeners are always passing along. There is a description of her estate, Hilltop, through the seasons and a sampling of her letters that act as gardening notes.
Potter's love for flowers, gardens, and garden creatures is evident in her books, and from this accounting we can see where she derived her inspiration. The descriptions inspired me to think about new plantings in my own yard and will probably inspire you as well. (Spoiler alert, she used wire fencing to keep the rabbits out of her perennials.)
Wherever you get your inspiration, know that spring is just a few weeks away for most of us and it's time to plan for the planting.
-- Wendy Wilber