Thursday, January 17, 2013

In Which The Duchess Learns From Beatrix Potter

The Duchess of Devonshire writing in Counting My Chickens about her favorite book on kitchen gardens (which she prefers to lawns and flower gardens): 

It is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. Held in the palm of the hand, the luxury of wasted space on the pages, the razor-sharp narrative, the warning by the hero's mother not to go into the neighboring garden because his father was put in a pie there by the gardener's wife -- all make you long to see what the place was like. You must read several pages before you arrive there, with mounting anticipation.

Beatrix Potter is not only my favourite author; she is my favourite artist. The illustrations have the magic quality of leaving a lot to the imagination. You are allowed only a corner of the cucumber frame, a couple of pots of chrysanths (no flowers on them luckily), some meagre cabbages, a gooseberry bush, a little pond, one robin and three sparrows.  

Our Duchess knows something about gardens as she and her husband, the 11th Duke, oversaw the revival of the 400-year old gardens at Chatsworth House that include a cottage and a kitchen garden, a maze, fountains, and a greenhouse. 

She also lists Ms. Potter's The Tale of Ginger and Pickles as "the best book on retailing ever written." Ginger the cat and Pickles the terrier kept a village shop which stocked almost everything required by their customers but are brought to bankruptcy by giving unlimited credit. Another village shop prospers because its owner Tabitha Twitchit insists on cash. Another lesson - don't sell faulty goods -  comes from the shop run by Mr. Dormouse who gets complaints that his candles droop in hot weather. Instead of addressing the problem he takes to his bed, "which, as the author tells us, is no way to run a retail business."

These lessons The Duchess put to good use in the estate's Farm Shop.

Isn't it wonderful that a woman who lived in a 126-room stately home (I think she now lives in Edensor House on the estate) with a library at hand containing more than 30,000 books can find such delight in the tales of Beatrix Potter.


  1. I just had the urge to clap my hands and shout "Yes. Yes, Belle, it IS wonderful!" because it is. I love this excerpt. You brought this delightful book of "our Duchess" right back to me and now I want to read it all over again.

  2. Penny, there is another book of hers titled "All in One Basket" which includes "Counting My Chickens" and "Home to Roost." HTR was never published in the U.S. It can be found in a hardcover edition which would be a perfect addition to our respective libraries.