Friday, May 9, 2014

Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, Marta McDowell

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales


Marta McDowell

Category: Nonfiction: Biography; Gardening

Synopsis: McDowell takes us on a tour of Beatrix Potter’s English gardens.

Date finished: 15 April 2014

Rating: ***

I saved this book until I couldn’t stand it any longer. This winter has been absolutely b-r-u-t-a-l brutal. And incessant. And cold. And snowy. This winter I was shoveling snow into drifts that were as tall as my shoulder. And then, our lawn between the sidewalk and street was piled so high, we ran out of any place to shovel the snow. We resorted to shoveling it into the streets. And spring has been so slow to descend. We’ll have a 60 degree day followed by a 12-inch snowfall.

All this to say, I could use a book about gardening right about now.

This book was full of loads of wonderful pictures. It was luscious eye candy. Not only were there lots of Potter’s illustrations (Peter Rabbit and the like), but there were black and white photos from Potter’s family, color photos from present day, and watercolor pictures of plant specimens. There was hardly as single page that didn’t contain an illustration. The artful display really uplifted my dark spirits.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the prose. There was no spark there. The book was divided into three parts: Potter’s life as a gardener, a year in Potter’s gardens, and a present day visit to her gardens. I found part one most interesting, as I was interesting in a glimpse into who Beatrix Potter was (the Renée Zellweger  movie was my only source of information until now). But this section did not discuss how she became a world-famous illustrator, only told us that she did, what she published and the occasional brief summary of one of her books. As disappointing as this was, the second and third parts of the book were even less appealing because there was no Beatrix in them at all. Part two focused only on the gardens. Part three was a dry step-by-step narrative of what you would see should you visit her gardens now.

If you’re looking for biographical information, I suggest you look for a different title. If you’re more interested in the gardens than the gardener, this would be the perfect balance for you. As for me, I found the illustrations satisfying, and that, rather than the narrative, is what I’ll return to.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
A gardener would love it. An illustrator, too. Likely a must-have for Potter fans.

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