You probably know Beatrix Potter from her children’s books that feature animals such as The Tales of Peter Rabbit. But, Potter had many other interests and talents including gardening. I was thoroughly entranced by Linda Lear‘s biography of Potter. While obviously having affection for this extraordinary woman, Lear wasn’t above describing her occasional rudeness or imperiousness. She also deftly connects the three periods of Potter’s life: her work in natural science, her work as a writer, and, finally, her work as a farmer and conservationist. Throughout it all, she found Potter found inspiration and personal peace in the country, amongst the animals and their keepers. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature is a wonderful tribute to this amazing woman.
I followed up with Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell. The first half of the book provides biographical detail related to Potter’s purchase of Hill Top Farm and other properties in the Lake District along with her preservation work. The second half moves into the garden and the life of its caretaker as we move through the circle of seasons. I was reading the book in October when I had just finished covering my mop head hydrangeas in hopes of blooms next year and felt an instant connection to Potter, a kindred spirit who loved nothing better than gardening and reading and wasn’t concerned about a solitary life in the country.
Even in the winter, Potter found beauty and satisfaction in the natural world around her. She encourages a young protegee to take time to look at the trees in the winter when we are able to see their underlying structure, how the trunk and branches interact to shape the tree. She writes:
We can tell every tree in winter without reference to foliage by its mode of growth. So study them in some spare moments…they will repay–they are in the right place as beautiful as rocks. They have a nobility of growth which is usually entirely overlooked (p. 154).Beatrix potter’s gardening life
Since some of the trees in my front yard keep their leaves, it can, as Potter suggests, be easy to overlook those who spend the season with bare branches stretching skyward, casting shadows in the winter sunset.