Restoring 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.
Even if you haven’t visited Beatrix Potter’s home, 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.
Restoring the garden
When Head Gardener Pete Tasker began working at Hilltop, 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 much of the more ephemeral planting 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, photos and diary entries, which revealed the types of plants she grew and where they were planted. While 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
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 garden gate, where Tom Kitten sat, a beehive nestles under a big slate slab in the vegetable garden wall, just at Beatrix drew it in The Tale of Jemima beehive which can be found nestling under a big slate slab built into one of the vegetable garden walls.
There are real gooses eggs and a bee hive in the walled garden and we put back a similar variety of red fruited gooseberry (can’t recall the variety – PT may know) where Peter Rabbit in a hurry to avoid Mr McGregor got his coat button caught in the fruit netting. The garden has some annual weeds as seen in B&W pictures with BP in them.. We put red carnations back by Tom Kitten’s gate as in the book and so much more. All this charm despite 300,000 visitors (may be more – don’t have the figures).
As well as reintroducing the plants Beatrix grew, Hilltop 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 to use as sweet pea wigwams from the local woods, just as Beatrix would have done a hundred years ago.’ Pete explains.
A proper farm garden
Gardening as organically as possible also means the garden is full of bugs, birds and bees. At this time of year, 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 various fruits, flowers and vegetables.
" 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 visitors what’s here and why it’s still important today. "