SG585: The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder with Marta McDowell


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The always fabulous Marta McDowell - the garden author from Chatham New Jersey and the author of All the President’s Gardens from Episode SG545 - is on the show today to talk about her latest book, The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder; which tells the tale of the plants and places of the beloved author of the Little House series.

If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, then today’s show will be an extra special treat for you. In fact, my own well-worn paperbacks from the 1970’s are sitting happily on a shelf in our loft. My mom knew how special they were to me and hung on to them after I left home. Decades later, she brought them up to my house after we moved to lovely Maple Grove, Minnesota.

I must confess, chatting with Marta is extra special for me. In the first chapter of Marta’s book, there is a map showing all the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and my hometown, right in the heart of the prairie, is pretty much smack dab in the middle of that map. Growing up, Laura’s stories resonated with my midwestern vernacular and world view.

One of the reasons so many of us have a soft spot in our heart for the Little House books is because Laura was so descriptive; she was a natural storyteller. However, in retrospect, I think you may be surprised by the amount of material in Laura’s books devoted to the natural world - ma’s gardens, the landscapes Laura and her family experienced, and the reverence for life - plants, animals, and human - all of it is so cherished by Laura and her loved ones.

Prepare to be amazed by the images you will recall; you’ll soon discover that there are passages from the book that are sewn into the heart of your childhood. Listen to today’s show and I guarantee that you’ll enjoy a renewed appreciation for the lasting tribute Laura created when she wrote about the world of the pioneers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.


Marta McDowell


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Helpful Timestamps

The Garden News Roundup

Timestamp 21:15


Timestamp: 37:25

Why should Laura Ingalls Wilder be consider a nature writer?

Timestamp 47:20

Laura’s books were such a large part of my childhood that when you showed the images of the various different places she went to in your book, it brought back so many memories of nostalgia for me.

Timestamp 51:05

The story first begins in the Wisconsin woods. I was fascinating by the fact that Laura and her family were growing hops here.

Timestamp 53:00

On page 30, there’s this beautiful illustration of acorns and oak leafs. They are also featured on the spine of your book in gold. What is the significance of these two things?

Timestamp 1:01:45

Can you please read page 31? It is the first glimpse of Laura’s vegetable garden.

Timestamp 1:02:35

Laura also harvested beets, correct?

Timestamp 1:05:00

Pokeweed and Pokeberry should be in all of our gardens.

Timestamp 1:08:15

Laura worried about the bees not having enough food. She was so young to realize, and worry, about this.

Timestamp 1:12:25

For anybody who has read Farmer Boy, you might have been just as confused as I was and asked, ‘Where’s Laura?’

Timestamp 1:05:10

What is the ‘milk-fed pumpkin’ all about?

Timestamp 1:19:35

Next up, your book dives into the prairie of Kansa and Indian territory.

Timestamp 1:22:50

Can you please read some of the poems on page 101 that was in Laura’s poetry book, a gift she received from her father.

Timestamp 1:28:20

Can you please read from page 124, where Laura and her family had to leave because of the overpopulation of grasshoppers?

Timestamp 1:32:20

Laura and her family finally settle in De Smet, South Dakota and this is where Laura meets her future husband, Almanzo.

Timestamp 1:40:00

Rhubarb can only be harvested in the spring, right? Well, think again.

Timestamp 1:44:00

Why is the Ben Davis Apple considered a ‘mortgage lifter’?

Timestamp 1:47:05

Laura’s daughter, Rose, was such a jetsetter. She fell in love with Albania and was a very successful writer.

Timestamp 1:49:55

In fact, Laura was coached by her daughter and learned from her writing techniques. She had to take her very first train ride out to California by herself in order to see Rose.

Timestamp 1:52:55

The income from Laura and Almanzo’s chicken farm was what helped launch Laura’s writing career.

Timestamp 1:54:55

When Laura and Rose tried cantaloupe for the very first time. They saved the seeds and sent it back to Almanzo via the post so that he could plant them.

Timestamp 2:00:00

Can you please read the description of Rose’s house, the one she had built, on page 280?

Timestamp 2:02:30

Marta recounts a personal story that she had witness as a child involving her father and a black walnut tree.

Timestamp 2:11:00

Towards the end of the book, you can see Almanzo taking a ‘selfie’ of himself (at least his shadow) and his goats.

Timestamp 2:14:50

Can you give us an overview of the various things that you’ve included in the back of your book?

Timestamp 2:17:15

Can you share the story behind your dedication, which is at the front of your book?

Timestamp 2:24:10

Let’s end the show by having you read your prolong to the audience.

Timestamp 2:26:15

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