Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review: Plants, Places and Prose Make Potter Come Alive

Courtesy Timber Press.

Book Review

Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales
By Marta McDowell

Beatrix Potter? Check.

Illustrations completed by Potter? Check.

Lyrical writing describing the world Potter grew up and gardened in? CHECK.

Best known for writing about Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor, Potter's influence can be found in children's literature. But learning who the person was - and what was happening in her life that influenced her stories - is how Marta McDowell makes Potter come alive.

Potter was surrounded by nature at Hill Top Farm, her primary gardening space, although she acquired many parcels of land in England during her lifetime to prevent it from being developed. In fact, it was her love of gardening and the desire to accumulate more land and plants that encouraged Potter to keep writing. The royalties she made on the books went back into her gardens. I was familiar with Potter's children's stories while growing up, and was able to reread them and follow their progression as McDowell shared Potter's life story.

But the best part of all - and the one that made me buy this book - was learning about Potter as a gardener. McDowell shared how the flowers Potter chose to illustrate her scenes with her characters - whether it be Jemima Puddle Duck surrounded by foxgloves or Timmy Willie walking among the pinks and pansies - were specifically chosen because they were grown by Potter herself. Correspondence to her friends about her garden were also interesting to read. Potter grew up as an animal lover, and McDowell weaves Potter's love of animals and her developmental journey as a gardener together.

I found myself enjoying McDowell's prose immensely and started using sticky notes to bookmark the paragraphs I liked the best. For example, when Potter purchased Hill Top: "Gardening can be described as a hole one digs in the ground into which to shovel funds. There is always a new project, a new plant, or a new tool." (p. 105-106.) Or reading how Potter was "infected with the gardener's imperialistic tendency. There was never enough space for all of the plants that one lusts after or the design ideas that come to mind." (p. 111). When describing how Potter would gather seeds from her gardens and the woods, McDowell writes "Seeds are tiny bundles of next year's garden, there for the asking. They are like magic, like the fern seeds that cloaked "The Fairy Caravan" with invisibility." (p. 247-248.) The ending is noteworthy, too, but you'll have to read that for yourself.

The book is divided into three parts: Potter's life as a gardener, a year in her gardens and visiting the gardens today. In the appendix McDowell also includes an extensive list of the plants Potter grew in her gardens, which acts as a "bonus track" for the gardeners among her audience.

Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life retails for $24.95 and is published by Timber Press.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Floral Friday: This Week's Featured Garden for the #GrowNow2015

I am so flattered to be this week's featured garden for More Than Oregano's Growing Now Garden Tour! (#GrowNow2015 for those following on Twitter.) Now in Week 7, the gardens highlighted on Beth's blog so far have been gorgeous!

I started my garden in 2009 when we moved into our first home in Connecticut. There were no garden beds - just grass and weeds, everywhere. Systematically I've removed almost all of the lawn on the property (roughly 1/5 remains in the front garden and 1/3 in the back garden). I've always admired the cottage style approach of gardening, and I hope that is conveyed in my garden.

The garden is surprising me this year by how colorful it is as we head into July. I try to always have something blooming, and I believe the stars have aligned beautifully this year. (As you will see in the photos below, I love to buy plants. I really don't buy shoes, clothes or handbags. I also enjoy photographing flowers for the stock photography and photo greeting cards I sell, so what better way to do so then to walk out the door into the garden?)

I've divided the garden into three sections for easier viewing.

In the Main Garden

Looking up at the sun (from my Instagram account).

Shasta Daisy Becky, my favorite daisy! Reliably blooms for most of the summer!

Gotta love daylily sales at the end of the season!

A daylily I ordered via Facebook.

The butterfly weed attracts many pollinators - including some monarchs, I hope!

This pitcher planter is perfect for succulents by the
front door where it is sheltered from the rain.

View of the garden from the driveway. (Click to enlarge.)

Coneflowers, Becky Shasta Daisy and hanging geranium.

I LOVE this pairing, which was a total accident! It is in the front border.

The front border, with hopefully some cleome and zinnia blooms later this summer.

Wind chimes from my husband's grandmother by the path.

This new pair of wind chimes is by the front door and sounds great with a gentle breeze.

More of Becky.


Endless Summer hydrangea along the front walkway.

The first of the phlox to bloom.

Finally found a good location to grow balloon flower!

The Kieffer pears are coming in well this year! (I don't spray the trees
so my pears come out with some spots, as you can see in this photo.)

I love this Centurion Blue Delphinium. That is its true color!


This Jackmanii clematis came from a friend when I moved in 2009.
It was just a cutting that had been damaged in the mail. 

A view of the garden path in the front garden via the front steps
(from my Instagram account).

In the Vegetable Garden

New Yorker tomatoes are determinate and coming along nicely.

I transplanted some lamb's ear to border my raised vegetable beds along
the driveway. The alyssum, carrot and viola are self-sown.

This is the first year I am having luck with zucchini. I bought these plants as starters
and it appears that I'll be getting a zucchini soon!

I am slowly converting the raised vegetable beds over to a Peter Rabbit theme
(hence the blue shirt). Both the golden marguerite and the calendula are self sown.
My original plan was to grow rabbit-friendly food in this bed for my house rabbits,
but time has gotten away from me and battles with the groundhog have distracted me!

This is tomato alley in the driveway. I have lots of luck growing tomatoes in
fabric pots this way. The bags are propped up on bricks to allow for drainage
and so the plants are not resting directly on the hot driveway. (There's also
a bag of organic horse manure in this photo. Oops!)

Blueberries tomato is a new plant I tried growing from seed this year.

Goldie was one of the first tomatoes to set.

More New Yorker tomatoes.

The bush beans live behind this bunny plan pen to keep the groundhog away.

In the Back Garden

There is still lots to plant in my portable greenhouse! Leftover tomatoes, and
dahlias I started earlier in the season still need to be put in the gardens.
The coleus and zinnia seedlings also need to be put out.

This is Hosta Land. In the back is a Blue Billow hydrangea and some
Virginia Creeper that the birds sowed for me. I used to rip it out because I
thought it was poison ivy, but now I let it stay since it's a source food for moths.

More daylilies.

Blue Mouse Ears is a mini hosta and one of my favorites. I need to move it
so it doesn't get swallowed up by the giant hostas behind it.

I am trying to get honeysuckle to grow along my shed.
It compliments the metal artwork - from Haiti - of a girl riding a bike. 

Thanks for visiting!
This completes this week's tour of my garden. If you are new to my site, I hope to see you again! I live in Zone 6b and as you can see, a variety of plants grow well here.

To view last week's Floral Friday, click here.

To view other featured gardens during the #GrowNow2015 tour, click here.

What is growing in your garden this week?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Floral Friday: My Favorite Flowers in Bloom

It's an exciting time in the garden: With the official start of summer this week, the garden has burst into bloom! Everywhere I look there are pops of color! I really feel like this year will be one of the best yet for my garden.

And it's not just in my garden, either. My gardening friends on Twitter are also sharing beautiful photos (and this week, a video!) of their gardens in bloom from all over the country! (Search for the #GrowNow2015 hashtag on Twitter. ) To see this week's featured garden, head on over to Beth's blog at More Than Oregano to see Cheli Cuevas of Gild the Garden highlight plants growing in her California garden.

Back here in the Northeast, here's what's growing in my garden.

In the Main Garden

I have lots of favorite flowers, so it's always hard for me to pick just one. My solution is to categorize them by season, and this week there are many blooming! I'm happy to see a return of hydrangea blossoms this year, after the lack of blooms last year due to the below average winter temperatures. I was worried that the cold winter we had a few months ago would doom us yet again, but the hydrangeas have pulled through. (All photos can be viewed larger by clicking on them.)

Endless Summer hydrangea

Endless Summer hydrangea

Jackmanii clematis from a friend's cutting in 2009.

Becky shasta daisy - my favorite daisy!

Dayliles from my grandfather's house in Queens, N.Y. They are the
first to bloom and may be ordinary, but they remind me of his garden.

This little wren sings her heart out all day long above my garden.



The first coneflower to bloom.

Butterflies love butterfly weed!

Golden Marguerite: A herb that blooms all summer.


I couldn't resist this Gerbera daisy from the nursery.

In the Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes are beginning to set and the garlic scapes are ready to be harvested. The parsley and dill are about gone because I'm hosting a family of black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars (who have been moved indoors for protection from predatory wasps). Here are some other occurrences in the vegetable garden this week.

Here is one of the four caterpillars inside the house now
(photo from my Instagram account).

Black raspberries are coming in.

Calendula blooms in front of oregano.

Bush beans on lockdown (protection from the groundhog).

Shiro plums forming.

In the Back Garden

The back garden typically doesn't get as much attention as the front main garden, but I'm hoping to change that this year. It is mostly shade with some part sun.

A banded hairstreak butterfly resting on the greenhouse.

I love these balcony geraniums.

"Plum Perfect" daylily is petite and blooms early.

I'm not a big fan of astilbe, so this is the only one I have. (It made the cut because it
was purple and cheap.) I like how it pairs with Corydalis lutea in the background.
Clematis in the back garden
Last week I did not share a Floral Friday post, but instead wrote about a field trip I took to view showy lady's slippers in bloom in Vermont. Click here to read more about the trip and click here to see photos of the flowers on my photography website.

What's blooming in your garden this week?