Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is a pleasure in three parts: a biographical summary of Potter’s life; a look at her gardens by season, through her writings, paintings and period photographs; and finally, detailed lists of all the plants that appeared in her children’s books and in her gardens. If you want to create Mr. McGregor’s garden in your own backyard, this book will tell you what to plant.
The book’s greatest strength is the illustrations that appear on almost every page. There are contemporary photos of Hilltop, Potter’s home in England’s Lake District, as well as many black-and-white period photographs of her childhood in London and her later farming life in the Lake Country. Many of her watercolors and ink drawings are included, from her early botanical drawings of fungi to the illustrations she created for her books for children to the later sketches of her farm animals and countryside around her.
The story of Beatrix Potter’s life is briefly told, but the notable events are all here. Author Marta McDowell does a nice job of including enough information about the social mores and historical events of the time to show us just how extraordinary Potter was as an author, landowner, preservationist, wife and farmer.
Potter the gardener is quite recognizable. She liked to share plants with neighbors and friends, and occasionally was guilty of taking a snip of something without express permission. She planted vegetables and flowers, and tended fruit trees too. When she was a child, Beatrix Potter had many animals as companions and her love for animals was evident throughout her life, but Potter the gardener did despair over the damage that rabbits and birds could do to her gardens.
It is arguable which is Beatrix Potter’s greater legacy: her Tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle-Duck and all the others, or her gift of over 4,000 acres of Lake District farms and hills to the National Trust. Her gift to the Trust allows us to still see the landscapes and plants and creatures that are so captivating in her children’s books written more than a century ago. Check out Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, enjoy the wonderful photos and watercolors, and see how many ways there are to admire this amazing woman.