Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh, the THINKS you can think!

Gertrud McFuzz from "Yertle the Turtle" by Dr. Seuss.

I've always loved the rounded, droopy figures that fill Dr. Seuss's imaginative world, not to mention the playful and rhythmic verse of the texts. His many books, the first of which were published for more than half of a century ago, have been loved by millions and millions of children in the English speaking countries. As it happens, my children now enjoy reading their "inherited" Dr. Seuss books, bought in the 1960's and 1970's in Australia and Canada by their respective grandparents.
"Dr. Seuss trees" on the middle left.
One day, driving through our area, my youngest one pointed to some conifers, calling them for "Dr. Seuss trees". And really, around here, there are lots of different drooping conifers, with their branches and tops hanging in the wind; varieties almost unseen in Scandinavia, where I come from. Of course, conifers are native to this part of the world and having them in all their different forms in gardens is completely natural. But I can't help to think about the theme that I did not write my Master's thesis about in Art History, as it proved to be all too complex and difficult within the limits of the thesis. What I was thinking about was how the imaginary world in children's books effects the way we make our gardens. More specifically, I wanted to specialize in the "classic" books in Scandinavia, as Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson etc, and analyze the plants and descriptions of gardens in them and compare with the most popular plants and features in our gardens. Now, looking at my plan, I completely understand why my professor politely shook her head and told me that this was far too complex and difficult task for me to take on and that I should keep to something more substantial. I still think that I should have specified my topic better; kept to one author only, and made something of it. As it is, I wrote about an early example of a woodland cemetery designed by one of the pioneers of modern garden design in Sweden...

Gumnut babies by May Gibbs, Australia.

Sov du lilla videung by Elsa Beskow, Sweden.
Anyway, I still find it interesting to think about the plants and gardens in children's books. When the writer illustrates his or her own books, it makes the preferred plants and sceneries even more explicit. A good example of this is the classic Swedish children's author Elsa Beskow with her richly illustrated books, most of which are from the beginning of the 20th century. Her books are full of images with idealized Swedish nature, together with small figures dressed as strawberries, mushrooms and other native plants and flowers. Actually, this must have been something of a trend at that time, as during the same period in Australia, May Gibbs wrote and illustrated books about Gumnut Babies with very similar images and figures, but now with Australian nature and plants. Or otherwise, think about all the flowering cherry trees in Astrid Lindgren's books; is this a reason why the Swedes love them so much (even if she did not illustrate her books herself)? And Moomin Mother by the Finnish Swedish author Tove Jansson, always tending her roses and edging her flower beds with seashells (which actually was a common thing to do in middle class gardens in the 19th century in Sweden and Finland)? Many Finns do love roses, so there might (and just might...) be something in to this.
Moominmamma's garden by Tove Jansson, Finland.

So, the question remains: what kind of images of plants and gardens do we grow up with? Do these images plant themselves in our minds and express themselves later in our choices of plants and when we are planning our gardens? A fascinating area, I think, and I would love to see a well-illustrated book about this, if not by myself, then some other book-loving gardener.


Wicked Gardener said...

This would make a good thesis . . . I'd imagine many gardeners tastes are based in childhood images of gardens. I was always influenced by the huge plants in Alice in Wonderland.

nilla|utanpunkt said...

Vilket underbart inlägg! Har jag aldrig funderat på, men du har ju alldeles rätt! Plötsligt börjar jag se barnböcker i ett nytt ljus. Tror också det skulle kunna bli en oerhört spännande bok, precis som du mämner.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hmmm... maybe I have to develop this then further? I really love children's books, so it would be fantastic to write more about them and gardens. Thanks for you comments, Wicked Gardener and Camellia!

Sunita Mohan said...

What a creative child your youngest one is to have noticed that! I dont think I would have. Brilliant!

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hi Sunita, I'm glad to hear form you again. I am very surprised sometimes about the observations my kids make, it seems that their eyes are so much more alert, and free to make their own associations!