Search for Plants from Peter Rabbit at the Garden
Beatrix Potter’s classic garden story The Tale of Peter Rabbit is known for its imaginative scenes. Bunnies wear hats and clothes, drink tea, and carry shopping baskets. But one aspect of the book is exceptionally realistic: the accuracy of its nature illustrations. If you look closely at Potter’s drawings of plants and animals, you will see that they are very true to life.
That’s because Potter, in addition to being a children’s book author and illustrator, was an adept scientific illustrator. In her time, before photography was common, scientists relied on very detailed drawings to show what plants, animals, and other organisms and their parts looked like. Potter was particularly expert at drawing fungi, and she used the same observational skills to depict the plants, garden beds, and landscapes for her kid’s books that she used for her microscopic mushroom images.
Many of the plants and a few of the animals Potter included in The Tale of Peter Rabbit can be found at Brooklyn Botanic Garden right now. On your next visit, see if you can find everything on the list below. Then go back and look closely at the illustrations. See how realistic they are!
“Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits…”
Look for a rabbit that has sneaked into BBG, just as Peter sneaks into Mr. McGregor’s garden. Hint: They can often be seen hopping across grassy lawns.
Lettuce and Radishes
“First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate some radishes…”
Mr. McGregor grows many of the same vegetables that BBG grows in its Herb Garden. See if you can find some radishes and lettuces that look like those the mischievous Peter gobbles up.
“Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees planting out young cabbages, but he jumped up and ran after Peter, waving a rake and calling out, 'Stop thief!’ Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages.“
Peter’s troubles start near Mr. McGregor’s cabbages, another plant to be found in BBG’s Herb Garden.
“After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net… Peter gave himself up for lost…but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.”
There are a few other animals in the book too, including the helpful sparrows that come to Peter’s aid.
Gooseberry and Currant Bushes
“Peter got down very quietly off the wheelbarrow, and started running as fast as he could go, along a straight walk behind some black-currant bushes.”
After escaping from the net meant to keep birds away from the gooseberry bushes, Peter runs past a row of black currant bushes. Gooseberries and currants are in the same plant family and have similar-looking small round fruits. See if you can find gooseberry and red and black currant bushes in the Herb Garden. (They have berries in the summer.)
“Peter never stopped running or looked behind him till he got home to the big fir-tree.”
Peter’s family lives beneath a fir tree, a type of evergreen conifer. There are several fir trees at the Garden. You probably won’t find any rabbit holes under them, but you can look!