Beatrix Potter's garden
The modest farmhouse cottage garden at Hill Top in the Lake District is one of the smallest gardens in our care but what it lacks in size is more than made up by its fame. Over the past three decades, Head Gardener Pete Tasker has revitalised the diminutive patch of land as its creator intended.
Even if you haven’t visited Beatrix Potter’s home in Near Sawrey, readers of her little books will be familiar with the rhubarb patch where Jemima Puddle-Duck tried to hide her eggs and the view up the slate-flagged garden path, captured in The Tale of Tom Kitten.
When gardener Pete Tasker began working at Hill Top 30 years ago, there wasn’t much of Beatrix’s original planting left. The apple tree in the orchard and the wisteria scrambling over the garden shed were planted by her, but most of the more ephemeral plants had become lost over time.
An archive of clues
Luckily, Beatrix Potter’s legacy to the National Trust included a large collection of her letters, photographs and diary entries, which revealed the types of plants she grew and where she put them. Her drawings of the garden provide a visual record of exactly how it looked in Beatrix’s time.
" The flowers love the house, they try to come in. ... but nothing more sweet than the old pink cabbage rose that peeps in at the small paned windows. "
Bringing the stories to life
Under Pete’s expert guidance, the haphazard mixture of flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables created in the early years of the 20th century, once again fill the garden. Red carnations grow by the little gate where Tom Kitten sat and a beehive nestles under a big, slate slab in the vegetable garden wall, just at Beatrix portrayed it in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.
As well as reintroducing the plants Beatrix grew, Hill Top is also gardened in a way that would have been familiar to her. ‘I use manure and straw for our strawberries from the farm next door, and collect twigs and branches from the local woods to make sweet pea wigwams, just as Beatrix would have done a hundred years ago,’ Pete explains.
A proper farm garden
Gardening as organically as possible also means there are bugs, birds and bees in abundance. In early autumn, the small vegetable garden, set out in neat rows, reaches its productive peak. ‘Beatrix would use what she grew to supplement her kitchen, it was a proper farm garden; she’d make her own jams, pies and cakes from each harvest. I love the authenticity of it,’ says Pete. ‘It’s easy to imagine her here, tending the fruits, flowers and vegetables.’
All the plants grown are varieties which can survive the challenging Lake District climate; lots of rain combined with a stony, slightly acidic soil. While the climate may favour the slugs and snails, it also means the garden is awash with colour; from azaleas, lilacs and violets, to Welsh poppies and aquilegias. In the vegetable patch pumpkins, onions, rhubarb, carrots, cabbage and lettuce flourish - to name a few.
" The magic of Hill Top is seeing her little books brought to life in the place where they were created. My favourite part of the job is showing our visitors what’s here and why it’s still important today."