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Winnie-the-Pooh’s forest is focus of lecture on children’s gardens

Landscape historian and garden designer Kathryn Aalto read “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner” at bedtime as a youngster.

Decades later, she read the same stories to her three boys, who were as delighted by author A. A. Milne’s clever word play and silly plots as Aalto had been.

Milne was a successful playwright, novelist and magazine columnist before he wrote two children’s books for, and about, his young son, Christopher Robin, that secured his place in literary history.

Milne’s first collection of stories, “Winnie-the-Pooh,” was published in 1926. “The House at Pooh Corner” was published two years later. Illustrations were created by E. H. Shepard. The Milne-Shepard collaboration became a phenomenal commercial success, selling millions of copies in at least 50 languages.

Part of the inspiration for these tales was the real Christopher Robin and his menagerie of stuffed animals that included a teddy bear, a wee pig, a donkey and a tiger.

Milne, his wife and their only child spent long weekends and holidays at Cotchford Farm near Ashdown Forest, a 6,000-acre wildlife haven southeast of London.

In her book “The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest That Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood,” Aalto explores how this real forest moved Milne and Shepard to create the stories and illustrations that remain popular today.

Aalto will be in Lexington for a lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 on “Designing gardens for children — inspired by the hundred acre wood” at the Fayette County Extension Office. The lecture is sponsored by the Fayette County Extension Master Gardeners and the Lexington Council Garden Clubs.

As a landscape historian, Aalto writes, she is trained to read a landscape using research, interviews and old photographs to uncover a story.

“Few topics can possibly be as fun as researching the natural world of Winnie-the-Pooh,” she says.

Aalto’s interest began in 2007, when she moved from her farm in Washington state to Devon, England. She was an avid hiker in the United States, a hobby that led to serious walking of the network of pubic footpaths and bridleways across England.

She spent a year exploring Cotchford Farm and Ashdown Forest, and an adjoining private woodland, the Five Hundred Acre Wood.

In her book, Aalto shows readers the ancient trees, winding streams and meadows that provide iconic moments in Milne’s books. An old sycamore with a large hole in the side suggests the place where Christopher Robin lived. Owl’s house was based on a several-hundred-year-old beech tree in the Five Hundred Acre Wood.

In heavy rain, the stream near the Milnes’ farmhouse turned the meadow into a lake and inspired the story in which Piglet is trapped by rising water and was rescued by Christopher Robin, who turned his umbrella upside down in the water, converting it into a boat.

The Posingford Bridge over a rushing stream gives us Poohsticks Bridge and the game of Poohsticks, in which Pooh and Piglet drop twigs on one side of the bridge to see whose would float out first on the other side. The Enchanted Place in the imaginary woodland was a cluster of six Scots pines.

The Washington Post described “The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh” saying, “Aalto’s lovely book provides two great pleasures: a visit to the actual wild spots that inform the fictional Pooh world and a chance to slip into our memories of the books themselves.”

Beverly Fortune is a former Herald-Leader reporter. Reach her at beverlyfortune123@gmail.com.

If you go

What: Lecture: “Designing gardens for children — inspired by the hundred acre wood” by landscape designer and historian Kathryn Aalto

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 13

Where: Fayette County Extension Office, 1140 Harry Sykes Way

Admission: Free

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