Blowin’ In: Lucy in the Garden

Blowin’ In: Lucy in the Garden
By Susan Mangan

“Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who
were good little bunnies went down the lane
to gather blackberries, but Peter, who was
very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden . . .
He ate some lettuces and some French beans . . .”
 –  (The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter)

Soon asparagus will begin to push their violet heads through the detritus of late winter. Beneath spent blossoms dried and flaking like old parchment, a carpet of dwarf crocus has already begun to rise mushroom-like, heralding spring’s arrival.

Days are lengthening and spreading twilight shadows across the garden beds. Magic manifests upon fragrant magnolia winds and apple blossom showers. Spring is our award for patiently wading through the darkness of winter.

With great enthusiasm, the birds and beasts of nature usher in the change of seasons. Birdsong begins with the April dawn and serenades the earth to sleep at dusk. Red-breasted robins begin to nest; apple blossom trees veil blue-speckled eggs from hungry hawks. A fragrant canopy indeed.

Rabbits burrow deeper into our spring pea patch to birth their kittens. Truth be told, it is a struggle every year to keep our English Springer Spaniel away from the den of the mother rabbit.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
If the kittens survive and grow into young rabbits, they spring and hop more rapidly than our Lucy could ever run, but each morning the race is on, as dog chases the flash of cottontail over garden beds and dandelion covered lawn. Unlike Peter Rabbit’s nemesis Mr. McGregor, my husband is certainly more caring of the rabbits and covers the beds with extra piles of oak leaf mulch to deter our Lucy away from the burrow.

It is quite the show to watch the squirrels tease the Spaniel, as they lithely scamper atop the fence with the grace of tightrope walkers, only to laugh at the frantic antics of the overexcited dog. The smells of the earth are almost too much for our Lucy to bear. She nudges the ground with the desperation of an anteater and raises her snout to the scent of creatures that float like phantoms on the wind.

Toads awake from hibernation and hide beneath clusters of English ivy. Lucy pounces about trying to catch the wise toads when they roll belly-up and play dead. Lucy barks until we come running, at which time we scoop the unassuming toad up in a spade, away from the unhinged spaniel, and pop the creature through the holes in the old fence.  It is no wonder that we seem to have an overpopulation of toads in our garden, as there is surely a meet and greet among the slick amphibians.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction
Mark Twain once remarked that “truth is stranger than fiction.” If one pauses from the whirlwind that is life and observes the subtle sights and sounds of nature for an hour or two, wonderful marvels will be revealed.

Much like Beatrix Potter’s precocious Peter Rabbit, Lucy was quite a handful as a young pup. She would dig holes in the asparagus bed and get caught up in the bean trellis. Running about with my husband’s planting buckets, Lucy was at his heels and in his way at every turn.

One day, my husband set a bale of hay by the shed for future use, and Lucy, with the inquiring nose, unearthed yet another toad. The toad almost seemed at play with the spaniel as it tucked beneath the shed and hopped out the other side.

Ears flopping wildly, Lucy began to dig in search of the clever toad. I went around the shed to see what the ruckus was about, and there was Lucy, nose stuck in the ground by the hay bale with the toad perched on top overseeing the desperation of the frantic spaniel. A childhood tale come to life.

Helen Beatrix Potter
Helen Beatrix Potter was a much beloved author, illustrator, naturalist, scholar, and farmer. Born in 1866, South Kensington, London, Beatrix Potter identified with the natural world and was greatly influenced by her family holidays to Scotland and England’s Lake Districts. Beatrix and her brother Bertram cherished pets of all of kinds: hedgehogs, bats, mice, cats, and even a Springer Spaniel.

Fascinated by animals, insects, as well as flora and fauna indigenous to the English Lake District, particularly fungi, Beatrix spent her childhood, adolescent, and young adult years sketching, studying, and writing about the beauty and curiosity of nature. Potter’s first, and arguably most famous, story is The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

What began as a tale that she wrote and illustrated for her governess’s youngest child, Potter could not get the story published and so published it herself to share with children that she knew.  In 1902, Frederick Warne & Company finally recognized Potter’s talents and brought the story to the world.

Beatrix Potter, a savvy businesswoman knew there would be a market for the delightful bunny, and history began. From the advent of Peter Rabbit, Potter created whimsical animal characters like Jeremy Fisher and Jemima Puddleduck. Even Potter’s pet mice, Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb, are immortalized in her legendary tales.

Interestingly, Potter did not marry until she was 47 years old, at which time she had completed most of her writing, and then dedicated the rest of her life to land management and environmental concerns.  She went on to raise the threatened Herdwick Sheep and received many accolades for her devotion to farming.

Upon her death at the age of 77, Beatrix Potter bequeathed fourteen farms and 4,000 acres in the Lake District to the National Trust of Britain. Her house, Hill Top, is a popular literary pilgrimage for lovers of the life and world of Beatrix Potter.

As April dawns and rain showers bring May flowers, consider looking to our natural world for inspiration and peace. We can all learn a great deal from the ever-fascinating cycle of life; the wonder that lies beneath the nose of a Springer Spaniel, and along the path of a wily hare.
*Sources consulted:
Potter, Beatrix. The Complete Tales. Warne: Penguin Young Readers. New York, 1989.
“Beatrix Potter and Her Sheep.” h
“About Beatrix Potter.” https://beatrix December 16, 2013.
“15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter.”
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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