“I fancy he may be something of a misogynist.”
— Beatrix Potter, in her journal December 1896, about Mr Thiselton-Dyer Director, Kew
Several years before Miss Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) became the beloved children’s author whom we all treasure, creating the world of Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, she had much smaller lifeforms on her mind: fungi. And there was a man (or rather, several men) standing in her way to mycorrhizal greatness. One of whom was no less of a personage than William Turner Thiselton-Dyer, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
It all began with her illustrations. She was a very talented artist, in both sketch and watercolour, but alongside this ability she also had the gift of very close observation. Beatrix sketched and painted a variety of fungi that she found in the Lake District in England and in Scotland. As her documentation became more detailed, she began to be fascinated by how fungi reproduced. By the autumn and winter of 1895, when she was 29 years old, she was spending an increasing amount of time drawing fungi under a microscope. She became convinced that she could germinate some spores herself. She wanted to study the environment in which they germinated, discover whether or not conditions were the same for each species, what the spawn of each consisted of, and whether or not she could reproduce it more than once. This is where her hobby graduated from observation to experimentation.