Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sawrey, Near and Far, circa 1913

I love maps.  So when I found an old book called English Lakes, a "Baddeley's Guide" from 1913, I couldn't resist.  Here is a detail from one of the many lovely plates.

Here is the description of Sawrey, page 52.  Nothing is mentioned about its famous inhabitant or her farms.

"From the Ferry the road ascends sharply round the south end of Claife Heights, and, passing through Far Sawrey (pretty little hotel) and Near Sawrey (pub.-ho.) drops down again to the shore of Esthwaite Water.  From between the two Sawreys Black Brow, a crag somewhat like Helm Crag over Grasmere, is conspicuous on the left, and in front Bowfell presents a very striking outline."

When I first read this description, I thought that "pub.-ho." meant "Pub, Ho!"  But on closer look, it is an abbreviation of "public house."  Too bad.  Fans of Near Sawrey and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck know that the guidebook refers to the Tower Bank Arms.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Peanuts on Potter

In looking up sources for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I came upon this clip of Peanuts by Charles Schulz, a great childhood favorite of mine:

Couldn't resist sharing it!

Oh the Red Red Robin

In The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the protagonists are decidedly leporine.  (I had to look it up; canine is to dog as leporine is to rabbit.)  But the supporting cast inhabiting the woodland and garden of Potter's Tale, ex. Mr. McGregor, includes a cat (white), fish (gold), a mouse, and three different types of birds.  Blackbirds, sparrows, and robins.

What set me thinking of this was a set of pictures that arrived in my mailbox this morning of a flock of robins that descended on a friend's winterberry (Ilex verticillata) during yesterday's snow.  She said about thirty of them showed up for an impromptu food orgy, the berries easy to spot, red against white. Winterberry is a type of holly that drops its leaves in the fall, making its berries even more prominent.

Photography by Ken Johnson

This is an American robin.  With the scientific name Turdus migratorius, I wonder if Carl Linnaeus (who invented zoological nomenclature as well as botanical in the mid-18th century) had an unfortunate encounter with bird droppings that day. Robins of the North American continent tend to flock in winter, which is why they aren't spotted as frequently in the cold season, and why they showed up en masse for a winterberry feast.

Beatrix Potter's robins were English, of course.  A different species entirely, Erithacus rubella. 

Image from Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, Photography by Ward.

This wet little robin is perching in Beatrix Potter's winter garden at Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.  They are curious and do hang about watching gardeners (and photographers) work.  Waiting for bugs to be unearthed, no doubt.

Here is one of Beatrix Potter's robins in The Tale of Peter Rabbit. With pencil and watercolor, she captures its inquisitiveness. It is checking out one of Peter's shoes, lost in the cabbages during his great escape.  Unlike Cinderella, he lost both shoes.  The other is "amongst the potatoes."  If I have counted correctly, there are four other illustrations in The Tale of Peter Rabbit with robins bop-bop-bopping along.

Peter loses his shoes
From The Tale of Peter Rabbit,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Of Christmas, Books, and Fireplaces

Growing up, I shared a frigid over-the-garage bedroom with my two sisters, Patty and Kay.  Patty, the oldest by 18 months, had a twin bed.  Kay, the filling in the sister sandwich, took the bottom of the trundle bed and I took the top.  For those of you unfamiliar with the glories of the trundle, the lower bed is on wheels and slips under the upper for storage in tight spaces.  The upper bed was not as high as a bunk bed; I clambered up the side sans ladder.

This time of year one of my favorite memories is of my sister Kay reading Twas the Night Before Christmas to me on the night in question.  The youngest by more than five years, I had to go to bed first on this night-of-nights when waiting for Santa et. al. to arrive.

No doubt The Yule Log was playing on the TV downstairs.

For those of you unfamiliar with the glories of The Yule Log, it was three hours of commercial free television of Christmas music, backed by a continuous (seven minute) loop of a fireplace with, you guessed it, a burning log.  It was an annual event on New York's WPIX, one of the six stations that broadcast in our area.  This paragraph reads like kitsch sci-fi fantasy, but it is true.  Really!

Wikipedia provides a still photo:

A fan site has a video, which you can link to here:  The Yule Log  This is insane, but I'm getting a little choked up watching it.

In many parts of the world, one of Beatrix Potter's books, The Tailor of Gloucester, is the Christmas Eve story of choice.  In part, this is due to the winter setting, and Potter's sumptuous watercolors:

And in part it is due to the story itself, where industrious mice save the day for the old tailor. The Tailor of Gloucester, published in 1902, was Beatrix Potter's favorite among her many productions.  You can see digital versions of the illustrations, such as these two at the website for the Tate by following link:   Beatrix Potter's Illustrations for the Tailor of Gloucester

Here is the tailor himself, by his soporific hearth with its coal fire:

Luckily the mice were hard at work that night.

If you want to know how the turns out, you must read the book.  Or better yet, ask your sister to read it to you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

In honor of CyberMonday, BP=?

My sister Kay appears to be the font of all things unique where Beatrix Potter is concerned.  Last week she showed up with a copy of The Tale of Jeremy Fisher dated 1990 with a most unusual back cover.

Yes, readers, this BP equals Beatrix Potter and British Petroleum.  A brief web search yielded a photograph of the entire set, and in case you are in the market, let me give you the link to the seller's page: BP Box Set on ebay

The design features of the packaging are intriguing.  The truck looks less like a gasoline (petrol) tanker and more like a bookmobile.  I am puzzled by the ethnicity of the driver who, if I may be so bold, does not appear to be Anglo-Saxon in ancestry. He is driving on the grass rather than on the road, which will surely infuriate Mr. McGregor.  I'm trying to imagine the discussion at the table when art director presented this design. What messages was British Petroleum (or its ad agency) trying to send?

Reading various posts about this collection, there is expressed outrage about oil-covered Jemimas in connection with this and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico accident.   To be fair, that was two decades after this promotion was launched. Unless British Petroleum had a crystal ball, it is hard to blame them for finding the parallel of their initials and Miss Potter's irresistible.

BP was not alone in appealing to children to market its fossil fuel.  I grew up on dinosaurs, and fondly remember Sinclair Dinoland at the 1964 New York World's Fair.  Here's another ebay item, sadly already sold:

This sign sports Dino, the Flintstones' pet brontosaurus (yes, I know they've been renamed Apatosaurus, sigh), happily pumping gas and reminding us (especially our Mom) not to forget the S&H Green Stamps.

And if you think this sort of thing was is entirely retro, think again.  For cyber-Monday, you can buy the 2013 Hess truck to drive under a Christmas tree near you.  Buy your Hess Toy Truck here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Green-Eyed Monster, Galanthus-Inspired

It was Shakespeare, not Beatrix Potter, who forever linked the phrase "green-eyed monster" with jealousy via Othello, written in or around 1603.  Arch-villian Iago dangles the metaphor in front of the title character. In my case, it applies not to fair Desdemona but to snowdrops.

What engenders this envy?  Snowdrops, various species in the genus Galanthus, trump winter.  For me they begin to bloom in January, and for Beatrix Potter she reported them in flower not long after Christmas.  She loved them, "There are thousands in front of the windows and in the lane. That is why I have an untidy garden. I won't have the dear things dug up in summer, they are so much prettier growing in natural clams, instead of being dried off and planted singly."  I concur, Miss Potter.

So imagine, if you will, when my friend of pen-and-trowel, Judy Glattstein, sent me this image on Halloween.

These, I learned, are Galanthus reginae-olgae, native to Southern Greece, specifically the Peloponnese (which always bring's Ralph Kramden's "string of poloponies"to mind -- I was a huge fan of The Honeymooners).  However this is no laughing matter.  Snowdrops on Halloween?!?  I turned that particularly gardener's shade of green-with-envy.

Judy, who is doyenne of bulbs, told me that there is another in her garden, a cultivar named 'Potter's Prelude.' Blooming around Thanksgiving, ("hiss," goes the monster), it honors the fellow who found it, Jack Potter, rather than Beatrix.  Still, a nice connection.  For those of you who are fans of a more recent Potter named Harry, Severus Snape kept a glass jar of galanthus on his desk at Hogwarts, for potions no doubt.

Beatrix Potter was not above gardener's envy.  She sniffed when her friend and neighbor Cecily's dahlias outlasted her's.  It is a condition common to gardeners then and now, there and here.  And thank you, Judy, for inspiring this post and next year's bulb order.

For more about Judy's amazing garden follow this link:  Bellewood in Bloom, green-eyed monster guaranteed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stolen Plants Always Grow

In her first year of gardening at Hill Top Farm, Beatrix Potter acquired plants in a variety of ways.

Gardening neighbors showed up with donations. At one point Beatrix Potter wrote to her friend, Millie that she was being inundated with plants. I suppose that everyone in the village who had been putting off dividing those perennials got out their spades when they saw this newbee on the scene.
Mrs. Taylor showed up bring "a very well meant but slightly ill-time present of saxifrage… she brought out a large newspaper full."

Beatrix shopped at a nursery across the lake, easily accessible by the steam ferry that traveled from Far Sawrey to the opposite shore. About obtaining plants, she was not shy. "I went to see an old lady at Windermere, & impudently took a large basket & trowel with me. She had the most untidy overgrown garden I ever saw. I got nice things in handfuls without any shame."

My hands-down favorite of Beatrix Potter's plant acquisition strategies she described thusly, "… Stolen plants always grow, I stole some ‘honesty’ yesterday, it was put to be burnt in a heap of garden refuse!"

The honesty to which Miss Potter refers is this plant:

Honesty (Lunaria annua) in bloom

Lunaria annua is a biennial, germinating and forming vigorous plants one season and blooming the following spring with a four-petalled magenta flower.  It is related to cabbages and kales in the Brassica family.  I always called it money plant, as it is really grown not for its blooms but for the papery sheaths that surround its seeds:

The sheathes of Honesty after the seeds fall

I suppose it is also called money plant, because it tends to multiply as, one hopes, as ones money does. Still, "honesty" is the perfect name for this Potter-pilfered plant.  I feel a particular affinity because I have been known on occasion to pinch seeds from someone else's garden.  Every year when a certain chartreuse-flowering tobacco (Nicotiana langsdorfii) blooms in my garden, I have a tiny twinge of guilt.  Or is that a frisson of pleasure?