Winnie-the-Pooh and I did not become acquainted until I was an adult and read what had become literary classics, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, to my young children. I had known of the books, of course, but only through an Eeyore-ish high school friend who was devoted to all the characters who lived in the 100 Acre Wood. I did not understand his devotion at the time, but as I read these gentle stories of friendship and adventure to my children I gained some understanding of what these characters might have meant to my friend.
Those memories of my friend and of the happy bedtime reading to my children came freshly back to me as I read The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A walk through the forest that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood by Kathryn Aalto (Timber Press $24.95). They also reminded me of my own childhood when I had the freedom to wander in the fields and woods of a family farm in Vermont, quite intent on “doing Nothing.”
By the time Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926 Alan Alexander Milne had already written 18 plays and three novels. He wrote screen plays, and humorous columns for Punch magazine and was a highly respected writer. It was while working at Punch that he met and became friends with Ernest Howard Shepard who was an illustrator of books, as well as working at Punch. A. A. Milne and E.H. Shepard shared the same sensibilities about nature which came together in a happy partnership when Milne wrote his famous children’s books.
Milne always said his writing was inspired by the life around him and in 1920 his son Christopher Robin was born. Then in 1925 he bought Cotchford Farm, in East Sussex, only an hour’s drive south of London. Milne and his wife Daphne shared their love of the natural world with their son, and watched him play with his stuffed toys – and so the books were born.
The One Hundred Acre Wood is actually inspired by the real AshdownForest. While the Forest has not capitalized on its being a model for Milne’s book, visitors will find a small sign directing them to PoohsticksBridge. Aalto has given us more landmarks to connect Winnie-the-Pooh to the actual landscape of Cotchford Farm and the Forest. She quotes substantially from the Pooh books and takes us right back to the time when we were children, or were reading to our children about the sweet and gentle adventures of Christopher Robin and his friends, Piglet, Owl, Kanga and Roo and Eeyore. I have to say I am moved to go back to the books themselves and savor them anew.
Milne’s prose is an evocative and charming view of childhood, but it is enhanced by E.H. Shepard’s exquisite illustrations. It is hard to imagine the one without the other. Aalto includes many of Shepard’s delightful illustrations.
Still, if we were to travel to Ashdown Forest today we will not spy a young child busy building a house for Eeyore or reading to a fat little bear who has been stuck in a door because he ate too much ‘hunny.’ What Aalto can give us in one section is a beautifully illustrated guide to the flora of the Forest and a geography of the streams and woodland.
The book is well researched and includes many photograph s of the Forest today but it is the charm of Aalto’s prose that carries us into this Enchanted Place. In this book she has given us some biography, geography, and botany, but most of all a trip back in time to a loving childhood.
In the Illustrated Guide to Flowering Tobacco for Gardens, Richard Pocker takes us on an enthusiast’s tour of nicotianas. I have never grown nicotianas, and therefore have never gotten an appreciation for the delicious fragrance which makes them such a desirable flower. My friend Wendy sent me a photo of nicotiana taken at twilight when the fragrance begins to fill the summer garden air. Unfortunately, the fragrance cannot be transmitted digitally. I never fully realized that the nicotianas for the flower garden were sometimes the same kinds of tobacco plants that get made into cigarettes.
One variety of nicotiana is called Perfume, but Pocker lists dozens of heirloom varieties as well as nursery hybrids, complete with a photograph, description, information about growing and seed sources, as well as diseases and pests. He also gives a stern warning not to grow nicotianas in the vegetable garden because they are toxic. You may recall that nicotine is a poison sometimes used to kill garden pests.
One variety example he gives is the heirloom Florida Sumatra which has been grown in Florida as far back as 1884. “Primarily raised as a cigar tobacco, the leaves are large, about 24 inches long by 15 inches wide and fast growing as it matures in 55 days. Topped with a cluster of pink flowers, the leaves emanate a delicious smell, described by some people as spicy. A unique nicotiana that is easy to grow and with abundant sources of seeds. It is a good beginner’s plant.”
Interwoven with the cultural information are brief stories of the part tobacco played in American history and in the lives of characters like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr.
This book is available at Amazon for $39.99 for the paperback, but a Kindle version now only costs $4.99.
Between the Rows October 24, 2015