In this revealing exploration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s deep connection with the natural world, Marta McDowell follows the wagon trail of the beloved Little House series. You’ll learn details about Wilder’s life and inspirations, pinpoint the Ingalls and Wilder homestead claims on authentic archival maps, and learn to grow the plants and vegetables featured in the series. Excerpts from Wilder’s books, letters, and diaries bring to light her profound appreciation for the landscapes at the heart of her world. Featuring the beloved illustrations by Helen Sewell and Garth Williams, plus hundreds of historic and contemporary photographs, The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a treasure that honors Laura’s wild and beautiful life.
|Publisher:||Timber Press, Incorporated|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||60 MB|
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About the Author
Marta McDowell lives, gardens, and writes in Chatham, New Jersey. She consults for public gardens and private clients, writes and lectures on gardening topics, and teaches landscape history and horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, where she studied landscape design. Her particular interest is in authors and their gardens, the connection between the pen and the trowel.
Read an Excerpt
Some decades ago when I fit the criteria of Young Adult reader, I was Laura Ingalls. That is, when I wasn’t Nancy Drew or, somewhat later, a foot-stamping Scarlett O’Hara. Laura spoke her mind, rode black ponies bareback, helped Pa with the haying, and pushed off her sunbonnet. Besides, I had the genetic creds for Laura. My mother grew up in the middle of the Illinois prairie, became a teacher, and taught in a one-room country schoolhouse, just like Laura and Ma Ingalls. Her family inspired my love of gardening and my confidence with canning jars. My father was a farm boy from Henry County, Kentucky, whose stories included the Christmas crate of oranges—the single gift shared among his family of nine—and walking to school unless the creek was too high, in which case they rode the mule. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I realized that the first family car of my memory, a mammoth black Hudson sedan dubbed “Old Jenny,” had been named after a mule of his youth.
Born in 1867, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a bumper crop of books for young readers. Farming, gardening, and nature were backdrops and key plot elements for every volume in the series. Originally published between 1932 and 1943, the eight novels chronicle growing up in the Wisconsin woods and on the prairies of Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota over a twenty-year period starting in the late 1860s. It was a coming of age story for a girl and reflected the coming of age of a nation, as homesteaders spread west from the Mississippi.
Beyond history, her books were about natural history. Laura discussed weather and land forms. She observed plants and the animals that depended on them. She foraged wild berries and picked wildflowers. And long before she was a writer, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a gardener and farmer, growing food for the table and raising crops for sale. She lived the farmer’s covenant with the wider natural world, tending soil, plants, and animals to sustain herself and her family.
For many of us, Wilder’s books introduced us to a life in and dependent on nature. Never was germination so eagerly awaited or crop failure so devastating. Her stories, predating reality TV by decades, often read like some sort of Survivor: Prairie Edition. Yet despite grasshopper plague, drought, fire, twister, and blizzard, her love of nature shines through, buoyant with optimism. Nature, in her world, is its own character, one with a definite if sometimes unstable personality.
It isn’t too much of a stretch to group Laura Ingalls Wilder with America’s nature writers. Nature was her home, as well as little houses. Readers of her books become budding naturalists. The actions of the Ingalls and Wilder families take place in different parts of the country with different ecosystems, and the stories demonstrate the results of changes to the land. The series sows a deep appreciation for the world outside one’s own door. Now that I am approaching the age at which Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing her memoir and novels, I found that exploring her works became a personal time machine. She opened a portal into my own melting pot of memory as I explored the places
and plants of her life.
I’ve organized this book in two parts. After a short prologue, “A Life on the Land” follows the trail of Wilder’s plant, farm, and garden interests intertwined with her life story. If you’re a Wilder fan, you will find a familiar order, as it follows the sequence of the Little House books chronologically and geographically. I urge you to read or reread them alongside. Three additional chapters cover the Wilders at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, and the other places that her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, gardened. The second part of the book, “Wilder Gardens,” is for the traveler who wants to hop into the wagon and travel to Wilder and “wilder” gardens across America, and for the gardener—aspirational or experienced—who would like to grow the plants that Laura grew and knew, with a catalog of specifics including botanical names.
And speaking of “Laura,” I hope she would excuse the familiarity. In her day, even Almanzo did not address her by her first name until after they were engaged. After that, Miss Ingalls became Mrs. Wilder. But because she shared herself with so many who got to know her character first-hand, a chapter at a time, Laura is the name I will use when referring to her as a person, reserving Wilder for her professional name as a writer.
Table of Contents
A Life on the Land 13
Clearing the Land: The Wisconsin Woods 15
Preparing the Soil: A New York Farm 43
Harrowing: The Prairie of Kansas, Indian Territory 73
Making a Better Garden: Creekside in Minnesota and Iowa 99
Ripening: The Dakota Prairie 135
Reaping: Settled Farm and Settled Town 171
Threshing: Prom Great Plains to Ozark Ridges 201
Saving Seed: Rocky Ridge Farm 229
Putting Food By: The Rock House and the Farmhouse 261
Wilder Gardens 297
Visiting Wilder Gardens 301
Growing a Wilder Garden 329
Source Abbreviations 336
Plants for a Wilder Garden 338
Recommended Reading 353
Sources and Citations 358
Photo and Illustration Credits 380
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The World Of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a closer look at the landscape that Laura and her family experienced. We explore Laura's relationship with the landscape that helped formed the background for her books. As we are led from Wisconsin, Kansas, South Dakota and finally to Missouri, you will get a close up look at the landscape and plants that they used during and even a chance to learn how to grow the plants yourself. This was not the book I was expecting to read, I get so focused on Laura and her family that reading about the landscape is what truly made the books great! I'm not much for reading books that involve plants but this book kept me captivated from the first page until the very last word! Just reading this book has me wanting to go travel along the same path that Laura did just to experience everything that she did and to see the landscape that made the books that I deary love! Thank You to Marta McDowell for writing a book that made me want to go back to read Laura's books all over again just to get a new prospective on them! I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book from the Publisher! I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley!
I remember reading and adoring the whole “Little House” series of books as a child. If you enjoyed those books, too, or are a lover of nature and gardening then you are sure to delight in this new book by Marta McDowell. In it she takes the reader on a tour of the midwest and great plains starting with the birth of Laura Ingalls in a little log cabin in the woods of Wisconsin and ending at Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri where Laura Ingalls Wilder passed away in early 1957. Along the way she paints an enchanting picture of all the flora that Laura and her family found surrounding their many homesteads. It tells the story of the Ingalls and Wilder families and of Rose, the only child of Laura and Almanzo, It also tells the story of the westward settlement of America and what it looked like before it developed into what we know today. Extremely well researched and immensely readable, the book contains many photographs, maps, illustrations and advertisements that add so much to the story. I also enjoyed the author’s personal anecdotes. Should the reader decide to travel the Laura Ingalls Wilder trail, the author also gives lots of ideas for interesting things and places to see along the way. There is a large appendix at the back of the book that among other things details the plants that Laura grew and recommendations for further reading.
This book gives an in-depth look into the background of the Little House stories and the lives of the Ingalls/ Wilder families, with a focus on the agricultural details touched on in the books. I found this a fascinating read, as it meticulously follows the timeline of Laura and Almanzo Wilder's lives, including maps of their travels, townships and homesteads over the years. The author has done a lot of research, weaving together parts of the fiction series and Laura's biography, Pioneer Girl, with anecdotes of her own that add color to the story. Beautiful botanical drawings, photographs and other vintage prints throughout make this a quality book to leave out on the coffee table. It would be a nice addition to any library, especially if someone has an interest in history and rural living. Recommend! (An e-book was provided by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.)