Bee’s in the Lavender

It’s a beautiful summer day on Martha’s Vineyard when I’m writing this; bees are floating through the lavender, beach towels are flapping on the line, a gentle harbor breeze is softly rustling the trees.  But so quiet ~ it’s perfect beach weather ~ that’s where everyone must be.  There are no cars on the road, a rare thing for summer on this island.  All I can hear through my open windows are birds. 

Soon I’ll show you more about what’s going on here but today, I think we need just one more visit to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm — our second visit in a week — you knew I would have to go back!

Remember how gorgeous the sky was on the first day we found our way to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm?  It wasn’t like that the second time . . . here it was on June 7, over the Lake District, dark, rainy, and moody.  Musica?  Yes.

Before we left the Lake District, I needed one more look at Castle Cottage (the light beige house above) where Beatrix lived happily-ever-after with her husband Willie for thirty years.  It’s privately owned so this is as close as I really wanted to get, but there it was, a sweet comfortable-looking little house just across the meadow from Hill Top.

It still felt funny that we could just drive here.  Beatrix Potter has been so far away from me for so long, almost on another planet.  But shockingly, like any other place, like any old McDonald’s on the corner, you can drive right up, put on your blinker, turn in, and park.  Go through a little gate, walk up a path and there it is!  Where it’s been for over a hundred years, with visitors just like me, coming and going.

I didn’t get a ticket to go into the house again because I have that vision permanently pressed into my heart.  I will never forget looking at the view through the wavy old glass of her bedroom window, the same ripply view of hills and green and cottages she saw all those years ago.  But there were a couple of things I needed to do before we left —  I had unfinished business.  As I was walking through the rainy garden for the last time I noticed little wet side-path I hadn’t seen before.  At the end there was a green door in the garden wall.  I went to investigate.  I didn’t want to miss anything.

I pushed it open slowly, making sure I wasn’t going somewhere I shouldn’t — then ducked under the dripping lilac to go inside.  It led to the walled vegetable patch in front of the house, and gave me a slightly different perspective on the house. I was inside the iron gate for the first time.  All alone, in the rain, in Beatrix Potter’s garden. 

Of course, Peter Rabbit was bound to get in trouble in this neck of the woods!  Such temptation; rhubarb and strawberries too.

There were little details I couldn’t see from the other side of the iron gate, like this recess in the rock wall.  It’s called a “bee-bole” ~ it’s made for sheltering bee skeps like this charming white box hive that Beatrix had “fixed up” — she also painted it into The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck — later I painted it into the journal I kept of this visit. (You would have enjoyed watching me juggle camera, umbrella, hood on rain coat, purse and tears while taking photos.)

I also came back to get the name of the roses climbing over the front of the house.  I asked the person at the door but she didn’t know.  Which surprised me . . . they must get asked that question two-hundred times a day because those roses smell like heaven.  Don’t inquiring minds want to know?  So they can grow them all over their barn?  Or something?  So I emailed the gardener, and guess what, he didn’t know either!  My blog girlfriends thought maybe Zephirine Drouhin.

Here they are, up close.  They also look a little David Austinish with so many petals, they smell like David Austin roses too, really strong, but the gardener only called them cabbage roses.

The other thing I had to do was to take a photo of my miniature Beatrix Potter book as it soaked up some local ambiance, so I could bring it back to the Peter Rabbit Room to spread the wealth (a little more magic never hurts).  The little book is so proud in that room since we got home, its buttons almost pop, bragging around to the Beatrix Potter People of where it’s been and what it saw!

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail hoist it on their shoulders like a returning hero.

But this is what I really came back to Hill Top for . . . I knew, the moment I left the first time, I had forgotten something.  I must have been crazy to even think of coming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to England, then to the Lake District, over the narrowest rock-lined roads you can imagine, on the wrong side of the road, risking life and limb, and then leaving this behind?  I scare myself sometimes. I’d picked it up in the gift shop and then put it back, regretting it every moment since, dreaming about it!

It’s an exact copy of the first book Beatrix Potter (who, as you can read in my journal of this visit, A FINE ROMANCE, is not only an illustrator, but so much more.  Most importantly, a conservationist savior of the Lake District, but also a respected natural scientist and regular person, despite being a genius, who was very proud of her prize-winning sheep) paid to have published herself, exactly the way she wanted it to be.  For this special, first-time-ever reprint, they used the same cover she designed originally, but they also added a dust jacket taken from editions published in 1903 by Warne; in a charming calico pattern supplied by Edmund Potter and Company (Beatrix Potter’s family business, isn’t it adorable?  Oh, for ten yards of that!).  They put the book in a special little bag and the only place you can buy one is at the gift shop up the garden path at Hill Top Farm.  I could not go home without it.

What makes them extra special is, except for the surviving original books, there are only 1000 copies like this.  On earth.  (At least that’s what they told me, and I choose to believe!)  And they all have numbers written in them like this.

The book is written in her own handwriting; all the pen and ink drawings are in black and white, just as they were when she first published the book. Only after Norman Warne started publishing Beatrix’s books were they done in color.  He believed in her.

I had (was forced by a power stronger than myself, therefore the court would surely rule me not responsible) to steal a flower from the garden to keep in the book. Stealthy, like a cat, despite the pouring rain, looking both ways and still seeing no one — into the dripping mock orange and climbing honeysuckle I went.  Rain pattered my umbrella as I tucked the wet rosebud softly, ever so softly, into my raincoat pocket, and was out of there before anyone noticed, leaving only a trail of muddy footprints, a clue soon to be washed away by the deluge; because I needed to press a real Beatrix Potter flower into my book more than I cared if I went to the Far Sawrey town jail . . . in fact, I took two flowers . . . . the rose, and an Iris for my journal.

And then it was time to go. Other than going inside and asking to take a nap in her actual bed, I thought I had done it all.  The rain was coming down hard, Joe was waiting on the other side of the little gate with the car running, reading his newspaper.  I stopped and took that one last photo of Castle Cottage ~ nostalgic, recalling memories that weren’t even mine ~ across green Post Office Meadow.  Nothing in the village of Near Sawrey has changed since Beatrix walked the narrow lanes with her border collie Kep at her side.

I hope you enjoyed our visit — I wrote more about this dream-come-true in our travel journal in case you also have a place in your heart for the life of Beatrix Potter . . .

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2,707 Responses to Bee’s in the Lavender

  1. Georganne says:

    Oh, what a wonderful giveaway! I’ve loved following your trip to England – thank you so much for sharing with all of us.

  2. Sarah says:

    What lovely pictures of Hill Top Farm! I wish I knew the name of those roses too. Thanks for sharing! My daughter’s nursery is full of Peter Rabbit and his friends, from the walls to the sheets. “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” has been one of her favorite books.

  3. Kati says:

    Oh! I’m a Beatrix Potter fan to the max! I’ve always loved her books and the movie about her. ~sigh~

  4. Robin B says:

    This has been such a charming and fascinating trip for all of your dear readers. I know I am not alone in telling you how much we appreciate your efforts to ‘bring us along’.
    Happy that you are back on your island safe and sound. Hope this comment is not to late for your precious giveaway. What a treasure.

  5. Sandy Kipple says:

    It was so much fun to follow you through England! This is the only way that I get to travel, but you made it so much fun.
    I have always loved Beatrix Potter, but I have a (step) grand daughter that really is a fan and a few moths ago she lost EVERYTHING in a house fire……..
    so thankful to God that she was able to get out!

  6. Wow, I just came across your blog and boy am I glad I did!!! Love your work and Love Beatrix Potter. Thanks for a fun read, I’ll be following now. ~Lori

  7. Nicole from El Dorado Hills, CA says:

    Thank you for sharing you adventures- it has been so fun to experience through your blog! Please Oh, Please – let Vanna pick me! I’m crossing my fingers and toes! Thank you Susan!

  8. Lisa says:

    I have so enjoyed your vacation! LOL! You are so sweet to share it with us! And I’d be absolutely thrilled to win this precious giveaway!

  9. Suzie says:

    Thanks for a great giveaway! So hoping it will come to my house!

  10. Well, you have my name, email address and even Twitter moniker already, so let me me just leave a comment….I, too, am a writer and artist…I, too, love anything that speaks remotely of childhood…to be able to keep that inner child as we age on is truly a precious thing. Beatrix Potter did it, you have done it, and I hope I have done it as well. This little book just sings of it, don’t you think? ….I think it is rather a full circle swing, should I end up with this English treasure, because your own books that I have purchased, Susan, have started out in the States and have ended up in England…Let me explain… I have gifted a few very good friends with copies of some of your books….and a good friend in England has received more than one, to introduce her to one of my favorite authors/artists. She is a businesswoman but lives a very country-style life, keeping an old English flower/vegetable garden…and cats (same as I do.) She was charmed immediately by your work. Furthermore, I met her when I sold her some Beatrix Potter rubber stamps online some years back! You see, it all connects…all those little dots, if strung together, make a wonderful line that circles around and connects itself! And we’re all a part of that great big circle!…..I’m so very glad you had such a wonderful time in England….I’m eagerly awaiting that very special book you’re working on!…Thanks so much for sharing……And please, do put me in the running for that little Potter treasure…..

    • sbranch says:

      I’ve always felt those dots connect, but until we had the internet, it was really so much harder to do, now we can connect with the whole world! Thank you Sherry! You’re one of the connectors!

  11. Karen P. - Green Bay, WI says:

    Holy cow!!! 2,647 comments!

  12. Mary T. says:

    Oh the beauty of Peter Rabbit…thank you to Beatrix and you too for this giveaway!

  13. Allison Williams says:

    You are such a generous person Susan! I’m only 24 years old but your books have been inspiring me since I was 20. I never have anyone to share my similar interests with and so I love visiting your website and blog. Thank you!

  14. SuzK says:

    I think I already left a comment, but just in case I got scared when I saw the number of comments… I don’t expect to win, but I wanted to say that I think it’s extremely sweet of you to offer this book and to include your own special drawing in it. You and Joe were over-generous sharing so much of your trip with us that this is just the sparkler on the cake!

  15. Belinda says:

    I’ve really enjoyed your trip to England, Susan, via your blog. I’ll probably never be able to go there myself, so thank you for bringing it to me.

  16. Mrs. Wendy S. says:

    Oh my gosh…what a wonderful, fantastical thing! You are the best! Fingers crossed that this book finds its way to me!!!

  17. heidi shorts says:

    i know it sounds crazy, but when your latest posting comes up on my computer, i sigh…and often have to WAIT…because when i am transported in heart, i find i’m not terribly efficient and get sidetracked from what i’m supposed to be doing (like right now!)

    i LOVE reliving your travels…your descriptions and your photos are so perfect…i can’t describe how my soul is stirred! all the places and experiences i hope someday to see! i have heard of walking tours and biking tours of england and sometimes, i think that would be absolutely GLORIOUS, to completely experience the sights, sounds, smells…well, you know what i mean.

    when i was a little girl, my gramma gave me a beatrix potter book on each of my birthdays, so i have a very precious collection with her inscriptions in each one. she introduced me to fantasy, fairies, talking animals, the arts, beautifully illustrated books and fabulous stories…all the magical things that belong to childhood (and for the lucky ones, to adulthood, too!) i have always loved beatrix potter and i owe it to her. we would all love to give your special edition a special home…but i just want to toss my hat into the ring and see if i might be the lucky one:)

    thanks for sharing your journeys across the pond with all of us!
    xo heidi

    • sbranch says:

      Her inscriptions in each one! How wonderful. I treasure a French cookbook my grandma inscribed to me when I was first learning to cook, so I know the feeling. xo

  18. Bernie B says:

    What a wonderful adventure you had! I wish I could be there in person but your photos are the next best thing.

  19. Sheron Fitch says:

    I just discovered your delightful blog and I am hooked! 🙂 Oh, how I would treasure the Beatrix Potter book you bought in England. I have always adored her books. I so admire your artistry!! Thank you for the chance to win this charming book.

  20. Robyn says:

    Loved going on holiday with you, Susan! I spent 4 months in England many years ago and it captured my heart. I look forward to going back someday. Thanks for sharing all the memories.

  21. Sue says:

    I have so enjoyed reading about your trip, and the meadows and flowers and building ……and and and………..and I would be so proud to call the book my own!

  22. Jennifer says:

    Is it too late to enter??? Oh, I hope not!!! If not, please, enter me! I would love to win!!! This is truly one of the ultimate giveaways!

  23. Jena says:

    Our garden has shrunk from drought.
    My dreams lie in the leaves of the last zucchini and tomotoes that I can’t let go of. I MUST know that something will grow here in Wailing Wyoming.

  24. Linda Sanderson says:

    How much I love your blog! And the trip to England; seeing the history that goes along with the very special people, like Beatrix Potter, is something I would probably never be able to see otherwise. I treasure coming to your blog; not one time have I ever been anything but totally uplifted by it. I have cats, gardens, and roses, too, and antique pretty dishes, and pickett fences, and wonderful friends to have tea with. How blessed I feel, and your blog reminds me of all the reasons why. Thank you so much, Susan! A limited edition Beatrix Potter book? YES!!

  25. Lynn Myers says:

    I’ve loved, loved, loved accompaning you on your delightful trip to England! Can’t wait for the book! You’re a wonderful traveling companion!!

  26. Donna S. says:

    Loved following along with your trip!! Probably only way I will ever get to go. Thank you so much. Who wouldn’t love this book….look at the entries……holey moley!!

  27. Bambi says:

    I’ve enjoyed the pictures from your trip so much!

  28. Sherry Niemi says:

    Thank you Susan, for letting us travel to all of the lovely places of our dreams and imaginations with you. We would love to be with you but since that is not possible for most of us, we appreciate that you took us there in our hearts and minds. It was a lovely trip and we can re-visit any time we want. Thank you.

  29. Susy D. says:

    I do believe that little one-of-one book would love to come to my house, and live next door to Uncle Wiggly. Regardless, what an extremely thoughtful gift.

  30. Gayle says:

    What a wonderful trip to England…would love to win the book!

  31. Teah Barrow says:

    Thank you for sharing your awesome trip with us and for the give away! Please enter my name in the mix. Thank you!

  32. Kerrie Taylor says:

    A tiny book for a true rabbet lover,it would be sooo exciting to win your generous draw. Fond regards K

  33. Debi W. in SoCal says:

    Wow! I am one ot those that has been on vacation and didn’t know about the great little prize you are so graciously offering to let one of us win for sharing our thought back to you.
    I have loved every minute of you sharing your trip across the “Pond” with us.
    You have been so generous with your time to share with all us girlfriends.
    If the “Tales of Peter Rabbit” finds it way to this house, it will have a perfect little home here at “The Hare Hutch”.

  34. Dinahsoar says:

    I TOTALLY understand why you were ‘forced’ to take those rose buds. And definitely worth risking jail time. The book is wonderful and if I won it I would be in HOG HEAVEN. I’m so very glad you returned to Hill Top Farm one last time….from the hills of TN.

  35. Jennifer Borchardt says:

    My daughter will turn 25 this December. Her nursery was decorated in Beatrix Potter. We have so many animals and trinkets. This book would be the crowning glory of our collection!

  36. Angela D'Onne says:

    Wow I loved the trip review and would love to win. Your trips, books writing always inspire those of us who aren’t able to travel.

  37. Christine Pulsifer says:

    Susan, I just love your books and blog. The Summer Book is my staple guide to enjoying these hot hazy months. I have so enjoyed following you on your adventures and look forward to seeing what you do next.

    The Beatrix Potter posts have been my favorite so far. I have fond memories of reading about Peter and friends. My mum even started a collection of their figurines for me and they hold a significant place in my heart. This is an exceptionally fantastic drawing and I know whoever wins will so appreciate the gift!

    Thank you for all you do!


  38. Cindy Chaplin says:

    I’m glad you and Joe were able to spend so much time roaming the countryside while visiting England again. I could feel your excitment. Thanks for bringing the lovely Beatrix Potter book home with you to share with us.

  39. Hope it’s not too late!
    Thanks for the opportunity… That lovely book would be most welcomed here on Briarside Lane.

  40. Patty says:

    Peter Rabbit is a lovely story as are the others she wrote. Brings me back to my childhood, leaning into the soft folds of my gram as she read to me and my other four siblings. Thanks for the sweet memory you brought back to mind.

  41. Miss Pat in Indiana says:

    I really do believe that you are a favorite of mine due to the fact that “A Tale of Peter Rabbit” was my very special childhood book and your style is so like that of Miss Potter.

  42. Carin says:

    Dear Susan,

    After the weekend of such trauma in the news we all needed a respite of
    beautiful MV pictures and vacationers truly enjoying themselves.
    Hooray for your insight and thank you,

  43. Heike says:

    Dear Susan,
    I want to thank you for sharing your british vacation with us all.
    I enjoyd your travel blog entries so much. Everyday I looked, if you wrote something new and if yes….hooray I sank into your story. At such days I told my husband : “Did you know where Susan was today? …In the Beatrix Potter house, at a romantic hotel, in a cute little british village, at Queen Mary 2 … wooow”. It was, as if I experienced it on location :o)
    Thank you so much again. Best greetings from Germany.

  44. Barb Webster says:

    Susan, everything about your blog makes me happy…every time I come here.
    Your life is so charmed and so charming!
    I love much of what you love…so I’m happily, hopelessly in love with all your pages.
    I hope you have a new book soon…with England as the theme…what a gift that would be to all of us.
    I married in London, England…and love England more than words can say…:)

  45. Marie Welch says:

    Hi Susan!
    I have Never responded to a blog, but absolutely must tell you that I truly LOVE yours! We were in England–Cotswolds, Lake District, etc. about 10 years ago and you gave me a truly amazing trip down memory lane! We traveled much of the same path, and it was the most magnificent thing I have ever done. I must be from there in another life!!! I can close my eyes and picture Hilltop–there was an egg in the garden when we were there! I have many of your books and love them all. Please continue–you have a gift!! Marie

  46. Paula Keeler says:

    Dear Susan
    Commenter 27001 is ever soooo beeeeeuutifully grateful to have had the opportunity to arm chair along with you to a hop, skip and a jump across the pond!!! Such a richness in the journey that I shall savor as much as my afternoon tea!
    Being adopted as a child allowed me to search for my biological family & heritage. My maternal side of the coin hails from the lake district of England! Having never been there, you have given me a wonderful peek into my roots! Thank you 🙂 And Low and behold, my all time favorite books as a child were Beatrix Potter. No Wonder! Susan your talent and creative spirit is a joy to experience, and is greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • sbranch says:

      If you ever have a chance to go there Paula, I know you would love it, and a part of you would feel at home … it is SO beautiful.

  47. Mary S. Stoner says:

    Thank you, Susan, for sharing your experiences of everyday working, living , and loving – – – – you are an inspiration. The pictures of your England trip with your detailed storyline has been the next best thing to being there. You seemed to mention and point out everything I would liked to have seen. Thank you for chance of having a beloved book – – read many times to younger siblings, children, grandchildren and most recently to great-grandson. Thank you, again, for sharing this wonderful trip. Cannot wait to hear and see more. mss

  48. Barbara Pahk says:

    Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen,and Pollyanna all in one place– what could be better than that! Thank you for taking me along.
    Have you read THE COTTAGE TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER by Susan Wittig Albert? It is a series of eight charming mysteries set in Sawrey. Beatrix helps solve a mystery in each one. Plus the village animals talk just the way they do in Beatrix’s books.

  49. I am reading through the archives…I loved this topic when I read it in your book… enjoyed it again in this post! I laughed about your frustration and curiosity about the climbing rose; was so surprised the gardener didn’t know the variety either! I think it looks like David Austin’s Generous Gardener Climbing. Don’t you love their roses?! I also laughed with the snatching of the rose and iris for book pressing! I think we could be partner’s in crime! I understand completely your sentiments about having to have something from a special place. We brought some small stones home from Box Hill…at Customs, I started worrying if they’d want to know! We made it through fine, and, now, when I gaze upon them, my heart is drawn to that moment when I had that breathtaking view from the top…priceless. Tears welled up again as I read this post…first when I read it in the book, and here again at the end; trying to capture that permanent memory of a place you’ve read about and longed to see for quiet sometime. A place where your heart feels strongly connected to. Somehow, I think the English skies were crying because you were leaving…thanks for sharing!

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