Read, grow


It struck me this past weekend as I was crawling around in my garden trying to spot new life (that wasn’t a weed) that I had forgotten to write about how our wild garden plans came out last summer. I had always thought it would be fun to have book-themed gardens, and at a friend’s prompting, we made it happen. What follows are the books we chose and the things we used to bring them to life.

“Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney. Cooney’s words and illustrations take you across the world and back again to Maine as a little girl named Alice tries to heed her grandfather’s advice. As a young girl, sitting on his knee, he tells her she must do something to make the world more beautiful. She grows up and finds her way to make the world more beautiful: lupines. At the entrance of our garden, there is an arbor, and to the right, if one looks intently, you can see many lupines beginning to grow. I have lighthouse birdhouses and a buoy from Maine to place among the plants, and the homage to the coast of Maine is complete.

“Miss Nelson is Missing” by Harry Allard Jr. and illustrated by James Marshall. Poor, sweet Miss Nelson is not respected by her students. When she is absent, their substitute is the wicked Miss Viola Swamp. We rescued a bookshelf from the side of the road, tipped it on its back and filled it with dirt. It became part of our story garden. An old desk with the top removed was filled with succulents. The book case held vegetables, flowers and our book bricks. I painted a paver to resemble the title of each of our books and welcome people to the garden. The crowning glory was a scarecrow with a pink dress on one side and a dark black dress on the other to symbolize the two teachers.

“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter. My mom adored all things Potter and made a Peter Rabbit garden eons ago. For Cora and I, it was a great place to put a cement rabbit and grow lettuce, spinach, cabbages and, of course, carrots. We put a white picket fence section up and hung a sprinkling can on it. Cora found a cement rabbit and snuck it inside. As you know, Peter Rabbit was quite tricky about where he hid from Mr. McGregor. We even made a miniature scarecrow with a blue shirt and shoes like the story.

“Tops & Bottoms” by Janet Stevens. Oh, poor lazy Bear. He gets outwitted by an ambitious family of rabbits, but it teaches him a lesson. This book is a must-read for little ones to inadvertently teach them about what parts of the plant you eat and such fun to plant a garden spot with. We put a stuffed bear in a porch swing replica bird feeder and found another rabbit to place among the radishes, lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli.

“Chicks and Salsa” by Aaron Reynolds. Mrs. Nuthatcher was watching cooking shows in the afternoons, and the wily rooster was learning a thing or too as well. He and his flock were sick of chicken feed and decided that salsa was the way to go. The chickens sneak into the well-stocked garden and pilfer their needed ingredients. Then, the ducks and pigs decide they should follow suit and make guacamole and nachos. This book has cracked up my kids up for years and was the perfect fit to plant tomatoes, onions and peppers.

“The Princess and the Pea.” This book has been retold so many times I’m not sure it has one author. When Cora and I were scouring the sides of the road for garden art supplies, a bed spring jumped out at us. We tied it vertically to fence posts, and then, Cora weaved scraps of fabric through it horizontally to show the multitude of mattresses the princess had to sleep upon. I bet you can guess what we planted next to it: peas, of course. The bed spring was the perfect trellis for our snap peas.

“Sunflower House” by Eve Bunting. If you get brave enough to try any book in your garden this summer, try this one. If you have kids, grandkids or neighbor kids who wander over to explore your dirt patch, do this. In the book, the family plants sunflowers in a circle, leaving the center spot open for imagination. We had strips of landscape fabric dividing up each story garden. We had one lead to the sunflower house. It had an opening on one side and a double wall of sunflowers the rest of the way around it. It was fantastic. We put rugs in the center and a small table and chairs found at a rummage sale, and it became Cora’s spot for tea breaks in the heat of summer.

“Tractor Mac Worth the Wait” by Billy Steers. This was Henry’s pick. The pigs feel so bad about eating all the watermelons that they nurture one growing in their pen just for the farmer. Henry was so excited to plant watermelons to show this story. We put up a pig panel, found a pair of pig salt and pepper shakers, and plopped them in a planter of hens and chicks.

“Waiting for Wings” by Lois Ehlert. Cora has a flower garden on the lawn and delights in finding butterflies sipping from the blooms. We grabbed this book off the shelf and made it a goal to plant every flower the Wisconsin author listed as being a butterfly magnet. The day we walked out and found a monarch caterpillar on her milkweed was pure magic.

“Pumpkin Moonshine” by Tasha Tudor. Little Sylvie Ann goes up on the hill to pick her pumpkin for carving, and among the cornstalks and bean plants, she finds her pumpkin moonshine. It was our first attempt at planting the Three Sisters, corn, beans and pumpkins, and definitely an adventure.

As you plan your garden this summer, get creative. Maybe you can find books to make it come to life.

Jacqui Davison and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres in northeastern Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.


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