Archive for the ‘Beatrix POtter’ Category

WritersGardenWhat is it about authors and gardens? Is it the authors’ artistic natures that attract them to gardens? There are authors well known for the gardening interests such as Jane Austen, Emily Dickenson and Beatrix Potter, whose gardens are artistically recreated in her books. For more on that, read the wonderful Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell which features photos of her gardens, Potter’s drawings of flowers and scenes from her books.BeatrixPottersGardeningLife

The Writer in the Garden edited by Jane Garmey includes essays by such diverse authors as E. B. White, Alexander Pope, Edith Wharton and M.F.K. Fisher.

However, it is Jackie Bennett’s The Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors that stands out. She has produced a wonderful pictorial essay on 20 British authors who loved and were devoted to their gardens. The authors range from Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) and his Shandy Hall and John Clare (1793-1864) and his Heplston to Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and his Gad’s Hill Place and Henry James (1843-1916) and his Lamb House to Roald Dahl (1916-1990) and his Gipsy House and Ted Hughes (1930-1998) and his Lumb Bank.

Bennett provides a smattering of the authors’ biographies, descriptions of their gardens and the impact on the authors’ works and enough photos to make every gardener jealous. The photos of the English countryside make it appear just as you imagine it from reading Jane Austen, the mist, the open spaces, the hills.

There’s the odd tidbit, such as Lamb House originally inhabited by Henry James was later inhabited by the author E. F. Benson or that Roald Dahl had a gypsy caravan on his property. Many of the estates were donated to England’s National Trust and can be visited by tourists. Others are artist’s colonies/retreats, in an effort to maintain the author’s vision.

The appendices include Garden Visiting Information, Source of Quotes and Further Reading. What a great vacation it would be to visit each author’s house and view his/her garden.

If you are at all interested in literature and gardening, this is the book for you. It is no coffee-table book. It is a book to be read, its photos to be viewed again and again.

I’m sure there are more than the 20 British authors mentioned in this book who were interested in gardens. I’d love to see Volume II or a book featuring American authors.

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I must be in the ‘mother recently died’ phase of my reading. LastForeverFirst it was Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw and now it’s The Last Forever by Deb Caletti. Tessa’s mother died three months earlier of cancer. She and her hippy, pot smoking, old tv show watching father, Thomas, are having a rough time of it. The only tangible thing Tessa has from her mother is a rare plant, a pixiebell, that has been kept alive since her grandfather Leopold stole the seed decades ago. Her mother took it everywhere and so will Tessa. She’s determined to keep it alive.

When her father suggests a road trip to the Grand Canyon a week before school ends, Tessa has no recourse but to go. She packs the pixiebell and its flower pot in an old shoe and cushions it well in a box so it won’t get tossed around on the trip. The road trip takes a few extra turns and Tessa and Thomas end up at his mother, Jenny’s house in Parrish Island, WA.

Her father leaves suddenly saying he needs time alone leaving Tessa with a grandmother she hasn’t seen or heard about since she was a toddler. It is certainly awkward.

It is in the Parrish Island library that Tessa meets Henry Lark, who will become the love of her life. It is also in Parrish Island that the pixiebell starts to droop. Tessa and Henry and a cast of several others vow to save the plant.

What did I like about The Last Forever? So many things. Caletti has developed wonderful characters: Tessa and Thomas, Henry, Jenny, the library staff of Sasha and Larry, Jenny’s art class students. The list goes on. They are colorful and caring. If I had to pick a community in which to live, these would be the people I’d like to live amongst.

Second, the library plays a prominent role in the story. As a librarian, that’s heart warming.

Third, every chapter starts with information about a seed. I love gardening and flowers and seeds. They intrigue me. That’s why I’ve read A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette, Who Named the Daisy by Mary Durant and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell. Seeds are fascinating.

FortunesOf IndigoSkyeI learned something from this book. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault does actually exist (you’ll find out how it fits into the story when you read the book). It is located in the permafrost of the mountains of Svalbard, Norway and is dedicated to retaining the diversity of food crops.

And finally, it’s just a fun story. There are twists and turns that keep you reading.HoneyBabySweetheart

I’ve read several of Deb Caletti’s books: The Fortunes of Indigo Skye, The Nature of Jade and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

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BeatrixPotterWe all know Beatrix Potter from her creation, Peter Rabbit and Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. And we know she was a wonderful artist. But what I didn’t realize was she was much more than an artist/writer. She was an avid gardener and a conservationist. Gardening was a prominent part of her life and her homes in the English countryside were donated to a land trust and have been preserved.BeatrixPotterFlowers2

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is a wonderful book. Divided into four parts, the first is her biography. But instead of being a mere narration of her life, it emphasizes her many drawings of flowers, giving examples and explaining how her real life gardens made their way into her books. Her artistry, even at the young age of 10, was apparent and the watercolor with pen and ink drawings throughout the book are testament to her abilities.BeatrixPotterFlowers

The second part of the book describes her garden in the four seasons, with enough current photos, drawings by Potter and quotes about her garden to give readers a fantastic idea of what her garden looked like, how she felt about it and how she tended her garden.

The third section prescribes a tour of Potter’s various homes and gardens.

BeatrixPotterFlowers3The last section, part of which I found most interesting, was a listing of all the plants Potter grew in her garden and a list of which of her plants appeared in which of her books.

If you love flowers and gardening and watercolors of flowers and Peter Rabbit, you will love this book. Small in size. Big in color. It makes me want to visit Potter’s various homes in the English countryside. Just wonderful.

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MaryPoppinsI want to start off 2014 in a sugary, flowery way. I’m hoping that the year will take its cues from the BeatrixPotterfirst books I read. So, I’m starting off 2014 with Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers (yes, I did see Saving Mr. Banks and loved it) and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell. The combination of flowers and Peter Rabbit should be a fun start for the year.

What books are you starting the new year with?

Again, happy new year to everyone.

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Beatrix Potter

In America we like to say all men (and women) are created equal. But, indeed, this is not true. For if it were, I’d be able to draw like Beatrix Potter, paint like Vincent Van Gogh, photograph like Beth Kephart, write like Dashiell Hammett (always the mystery reader, am I), play guitar like Derek Trucks and I’d look like…well, I’d still look like me because I’m gawgiousss!

This disparity in talent became quite evident as I toured the “Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters” exhibit at the Morgan Library in Manhattan. Not only was Potter a wonderful artist, but she wrote letters to the children of her friends and family in language they could understand, all chock full of illustrations, many of which became the bases of her books. In these letters you see the beginnings of the Tales of Peter Rabbit and many other stories that later became her wonderful books.

It was rare in her day for a woman to have control over her art, but Potter had a vision for how her books would look and she made sure that that’s how they ended up looking. The exhibit was intriguing in that so many of her letters survived over a century.

The exhibit also mentions Thackeray and Lear as two other artists who illustrated their letters. What comes to my mind, though, is the recent exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters, which contain marvelous illustrations, many of which foreshadow his emotional upheaval.

In my mind, it is Potter’s illustrations, not her story line which make her books stand out. It is wonderful to see how an artist’s mind works, how he/she hones her skill and her stories. If you have the opportunity to view this exhibit, go. The enjoyment you’ll get out of it, is unsurpassed.

(And, if you’re up for a long walk, there’s a cafe, Joe’s Cafe, on Columbus Avenue between 85th and 86th Street, that has a nice sized cup of delicious coffee and great whole wheat apple bread.)

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