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Things to do in Hill Top garden

Blue Iris sibirica in the garden at Hill Top, Cumbria
Iris sibirica in the garden at Hill Top, Cumbria | © Pete Tasker

Beatrix Potter's garden was a great inspiration to her and it’s now been lovingly restored to how it looked in her time. Take in the views of the pretty cottage garden from the famous path, as well as the carefully tended vegetable plot.

Spring in the Hill Top garden

The main thrust of spring comes late to the Lake District and it is April before the first green shoots of the new season really begin to appear. By the end of the month the red Japanese quince by the house door is in bloom along with the wild primroses, lungwort, Forsythia and flowering currant. The apple trees in the paddock are full of blossom and the local bees are on pollination duty. The warm days of May bring lush green growth and an explosion of flowers. Cowslips and the strongly-scented wild garlic are in full bloom along with lilacs, violets, Welsh poppies and Aquilegias. Towards the end of the month both white and blue wisterias produce a dazzling display, matched only by the deciduous azaleas in the border opposite the house.

In the vegetable garden Jemima Puddle-Duck’s rhubarb unfurls its crinkly leaves to start another season. The apple, pear and damson trees in the orchard produce their blossom to be pollinated by the local bees with hopes of a bumper crop of fruit in the early autumn.

Stroll the garden path

The cottage garden at Hill Top in the Lake District may be small but what it lacks in size is made up for in fame. Beatrix Potter loved the view up the garden path so much that she included it in two of her books: The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Pigling Bland.

The path is the ideal place to admire the informally planted flower beds. Through the door in the red-brick wall, you'll see the more formal vegetable garden and another lovely view of Hill Top house through the garden gate.

Explore the garden as Beatrix knew it

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 other plants had become lost over time.

Luckily, Beatrix Potter’s legacy to the National Trust included a large collection of letters, photographs and diary entries, which revealed the types of plants she grew and where she put them. Beatrix’s drawings of the garden provide a visual record of exactly how it looked in her time.

‘I love seeing our visitors discovering scenes in the garden so familiar from Beatrix Potter’s little books’, says Pete. ‘My favourite is The Tale of Tom Kitten. It’s got some great illustrations of Hill Top garden and I’ve used them to work out what was growing in the borders when Beatrix painted them.’

‘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.’

– Beatrix Potter, Hill Top, 1930

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 as Beatrix portrayed it in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.

Clematis Montana in the garden at Hill Top
Clematis Montana in the garden at Hill Top | © Pete Tasker

Discover 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.

All the plants grown are varieties that 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.

A view of Hill Top house, Cumbria, a cottage with pretty foliage climbing up its walls and which is surrounded by a cottage garden densely planted with shrubs and flowers.

Discover more at Hill Top

Find out when Hill Top is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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