The quiet times in our gardens regularly allow us to enjoy delightful moments when we may witness scenes not enjoyed by those who rush along through life – the robin who comes to snap up the disturbed worm, the wood pigeon bathing in the garden pond, the house sparrows raiding the hens’ food, the stoat bouncing among the shrubs, the young foxes stealing our shoes, the grey crows who work as a team with one teasing the cock pheasant to distract him from his food so another another may slip in to steal it or the silly pheasant who stands in front of me and does her dance of indecision to and fro before eventually going on her way.


For one more gifted, the rabbit becomes Peter or Benjamin; the hedgehog is Mrs. Tiggy Winkle; the duck is named Jemima; the frog morphs to Mr. Jeremy Fisher; and there is Squirrel Nutkin, Miss Moppet, the cat and, of course, Tom Kitten; Samuel Whiskers the rat; Ginger and Pickles, a dog and cat and many, many other animal characters which featured in the fabulous tales penned by Beatrix Potter and enjoyed by generations of children such that 150 million copies of her books have been sold around the world and continue to entertain children to this day.

Martha McDowell’s Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales is a biography of Beatrix Potter from her childhood days in London to her later life in the Lake District, exploring the influences and experiences which lead to the creation of her wonderful characters and books though her personal life and marriage and her activity  as a land conservationist, eventually leaving vast tracts to the National Trust. It is an account which gives a very interesting insight into one of the best known of English authors.

This is followed by a season by season description of a year in her garden – and she was a most enthusiastic and competent gardener as well as being an efficient estate manager. Despite her wealth and success her garden was a very modest one because this is how she wished it to be and how she enjoyed it and, perhaps, this account of her gardening also gives a great deal of insight into her character and personality.

A final section gives a guide to the tourist who might wish to visit her gardens – she had several houses and gardens in the Lake District – with all information that the visitor might need.

This was a very interesting read, one I enjoyed very much, especially so to see how many of the illustrations in her books were paintings of scenes in her own gardens or neighbourhood.

[Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales, Martha McDowell, Timber Press, Portland Oregon, 2013 – in its fifth reprint in 2015, Hardback, 339 pages, £16.99, ISBN: 978-1-60469-363-8]

Paddy Tobin

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