Sunday, December 14, 2014

Elizabeth and Her German Garden

This is a story about a book. As you're reading this, you're probably going to think to yourself, "Well, that's rather historical, how nice," and then your attention might wane unless you're interested in that sort of thing. But this is not going to end like you might think...,d.aWw
Thanksgiving weekend, my husband and I spent three days watching the first four seasons of Downton Abbey since we were both too sick to do much of anything else. We're both DA addicts and we thought we'd just start from the beginning and watch them all again in preparation for Season 5, which begins here in the U.S. on January 4, 2015.

It's amazing how much you forget and even more amazing the things you didn't notice the first time around. For example, there was one little detail that I didn't remember in the scene where Mr. Molesley brought a book for Anna to read, in the hopes that he could spend more time with her, discussing it.

While I did remember the scene, I did not previously take note of the title of the book - Elizabeth and Her German Garden.

This time it caught my attention and as a collector of old gardening books, I immediately took to the internet in search of it.  It didn't take me long to find an early copy, located in England, where it was first published by MacMillan & Co. in September of 1898. The author is Elizabeth von Arnim, but it was published anonymously and nowhere in the book does it state who the author is.

This particular copy - First edition, 4th reprint, December 1899 - has a bookplate affixed to the front paste down, indicating that it once belonged to Lady Anne Dick-Lauder.

Now that sent me off on a search to see just who this Lady Anne was.

Wikipedia states:

Sir John [Dick-Lauder] married at St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh [Scotland], on 22 May 1845, Lady Anne (1820–1919), daughter of North Hamilton Dalrymple, 9th Earl of Stair. 

Well, that's interesting. I now own a book that belonged to a proper lady who was an aristocrat with maids and everything. Just like the Crawleys.

But the author of the book itself has a storied past that bears mentioning. Born in 1866 in Australia and raised in England, her given name was Mary Annette Beauchamp. First married to a German Count, she went to Germany to live with him, where she wrote this book.

Elizabeth von Arnim
She later lived in England and Switzerland and married the brother of Bertrand Russell, during which marriage she was known as Countess Russell. Following the death of her first husband, she also became a mistress of H.G. Wells. She fl19ed England at the start of World War II to America, where she died in South Carolina in 1941 from complications of influenza.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden was her first book and it was an enormous success and somewhat controversial, going through several printings in its first year alone. Though the original book had no illustrations, a deluxe illustrated edition was published in 1900. Two of Elizabeth's later books were made into successful movies, one of which starred Bette Davis. The text of this book is available online via Project Gutenberg.

A recurrent theme in Elizabeth's books is that she took great refuge in her gardens, much like those of us who garden today do, even if we don't lead such turbulent lives like that of our dear Elizabeth.

If you've ever read books from an earlier time period such as this (Victorian/Edwardian eras), you know that the English language has evolved with regard to both formal and informal speaking and comprehension can be a little tricky sometimes. Romie and I had a conversation about this as I was looking through Elizabeth and Her German Garden:

Me:  Listen to this...

I am always happy (out of doors be it understood, for indoors there are servants and furniture) but in quite different ways, and my spring happiness bears no resemblance to my summer or autumn happiness, though it is not more intense, and there were days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound garden, in spite of my years and children. But I did it behind a bush, having a due regard for the decencies. 

Romie:  Yes?
Me: What do you think she's saying?
Romie:  She went potty behind a bush.


While writing this blog post, I discovered these articles, which have more information on Elizabeth von Arnim and her recent connection with Downton Abbey:


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Postcards From the Past

Last week, I wrote about collections for my garden column that I write each week for our local newspaper, the Paulding Progress. Gardeners collect plants, certain genera of plants, garden tools (such as hoes), and old garden books. I do the former and the latter, but I used to collect something else.

Long before I ever knew or even thought about becoming a gardener, way back in the sixth grade, I collected postcards. Cheryl, my best friend at the time, and her family were antique buffs and I often went with them on their journeys to local antique dealers to look for treasures. I often came home with odds and ends of things, but always more postcards to add to my collection.

I still have that collection, kept in a shoebox and stored in a closet, but now and then I get it out and look through it for a certain postcard that pops into my memory for some reason or another. A couple of weeks ago, as we were cleaning out the attic over the garage, another box was found - a box of old family photos and memorabilia from my mom's side of the family.

Found amid the pieces was this postcard, addressed to my great-grandma. A friend of hers had sent  greetings from Belle Isle in Detroit, depicting the Horticultural Building. The postmark was dated August 31, 1920. My great-grandma would have been 28 years old at the time.

I knew Great-grandma Gertie, and so did my girls, though I doubt they remember much about her. She died in 1988 a little over a month away from her 96th birthday.

World Cup of Gardening

Though I don't live that far from Detroit (2½ hours), I've never been to Belle Isle, and I'm not familiar with it, but finding the postcard piqued my interest. Next summer, I hope to attend the first World Cup of Gardening event to be held on none other than Belle Isle, located in the Detroit River.

This premier gardening show, running from June 16-21, 2015, is expected to be world-class, showcasing ten 1000-square-foot gardens designed and built by internationally acclaimed landscape artists from around the world. There will be educational opportunities, vendors, entertainment and diverse food offerings.

More information about the show can be found on the official website as well as in this brochure.

Belle Isle National Park

The 982-acre park, which is the largest island park in the U.S. and on the National Register of Historic Places (so designated in 1974), was designed in 1883 by the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

Photo by Elizabeth McMillan/Wikipedia CC

The Horticultural Building, also called the Conservatory, was begun in 1902 and completed in 1904, when it opened to the public. Originally a wooden structure, the frame was rebuilt with steel and aluminum in 1949.

In 1953, it was renamed the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, after Ms. Whitcomb donated her collection of 600 orchids. It is the oldest continually operating conservatory in the U.S. and is open to the public at no charge.

A bit of a mystery though, is the Lily Pond. Online sources tell me that it was not a part of the original design and that it wasn't constructed until 1936. This postcard, clearly postmarked 1920 would suggest that "a" lily pond existed long before that.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pumpkin Torte on the Thanksgiving Table

It's been two years since I posted my pumpkin torte recipe, but since there are always new readers to this blog, and I get asked for this recipe every year around this time, I'm posting it again. This is seriously good stuff and it's my personal favorite dessert of all time. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving to all!

With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, thoughts turn to food and those special dishes we enjoy as we dine with family. I'll be doing the turkey again this year as well as the pumpkin torte that I'm known for. With the exception of my husband, our family likes this dessert better than pumpkin pie. It's not that he doesn't like the torte - he does. He just likes pie better.

To each his own, I say.

I've posted my recipe for the pumpkin torte a few times before, but I always get asked again for it when Thanksgiving rolls around, so here you go:

Kylee's Pumpkin Torte

1 yellow cake mix (take out 1 cup)
3 eggs
1¼ cup white sugar

¾ cup butter

¾ cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large can pumpkin pie mix
(30 oz.)

: Mix the cake mix (less 1 cup) with one egg and ½ cup butter. Press into the bottom of a greased jelly roll pan (10½ x 15½ x 1).
Filling: Mix until smooth - pumpkin pie mix, 2 eggs, and evaporated milk. Pour on top of the crust.
: Mix 1 cup cake mix, sugar, cinnamon and ¼ cup butter. Sprinkle on top of the pumpkin mixture. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

Enjoy the torte, enjoy the day, and don't forget to give thanks!

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