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Hill Top Farm, Cumbria

Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm

One of my first memories of the gardening topic is the belabored Mr. McGregor shoo’ing Peter Rabbit away. As unfair as pilfering from the garden is, the reader finds him or herself “rooting” for Peter Rabbit’s safe return home.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was first published in 1902 and remains one of my favorites. Still in my mind are the vivid illustrations—watercolors of personified fluffy animals outfitted in pastels.

The family lives under the roots of a “very big fir-tree.” The widowed Mrs. Rabbit in her puffy blue sleeves and white apron explicitly warns “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden” and by the way “your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’

Oh my.

And off they go, Peter in a sky-blue jacket and sisters in pink-red ones. Peter—who must have had cotton stuffed in his ears—of course doesn’t heed and makes a bee-line for Mr. McGregor’s garden, squeezing under the gate.

This image is familiar: Peter, in his black slippers, enjoying “some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate some radishes” alongside a robin perched on the handle of a shovel (his conscience??). Then Peter moves on to find some parsley to settle his exploding stomach.

Well, needless to say, pandemonium ensues involving lost slippers, brass buttons, a gooseberry net, sieve, watering can, sneeze, and a resulting scarecrow of Peter’s lost jacket. Peter cowers unclothed, shoeless, trapped and scared. He and the reader are left with a huge guilt complex for disobeying. [Add to this plot the loss of some homework. You are now privy to one of my top ten recurring nightmares.]

If you’d like to revisit the illustrated source of your own primordial guilt complex find The Tale of Peter Rabbit at The Gutenberg Project here http://www.gutenberg.org/files/14838/14838-h/14838-h.htm

Beatrix Potter was prolific and much of her work was published in quick succession. By the end of 1903 Peter Rabbit had sold over 50,000 copies and royalties were accumulating. Visit Beatrix Potter’s “Hill Top,” the first farm property she purchased with royalty income. It is pictured here and is located in Cumbria, the Lake District in England. See visitor information here http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hilltop

A wonderful fully illustrated biography of the author-illustrator is Beatrix Potter 1866-1943: The Artist and Her World co-published by The National Trust and Frederick Warne & Co., the original publisher of her works. I found a copy at a local library.

Picture sources: Flickr Creative Commons ‘mkisono’

Nancy R. Peck

Hill Top Farm, Cumbria

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