Beatrix Potter’s Garden
“Spring is the most beautiful time of year”
Alice Sage, Property Curator, Hill Top & Beatrix Potter Gallery, National Trust introduces her beloved garden and shares some recent interpretations they have added to the site. These colourful interventions bring Beatrix's voice into the garden, and remind visitors of her knowledge and interest in flowers and plants.
The garden at Hill Top was as important to Beatrix Potter as the farmhouse itself. When Beatrix bought Hill Top in 1905, the house and garden were both much smaller, and she quickly got to work building extensions and annexing farmland.
In fact the garden progressed more quickly than the house. While the building was being renovated, Beatrix started to plant up her borders with seeds and cuttings from friends and neighbours – sometimes without their knowledge. “…Stolen plants always grow, I stole some 'honesty' yesterday, it was put out to be burnt in a heap of garden refuse! I have something out of nearly every garden in the village".
It is worth noting that Beatrix's most famous garden, Mr McGregor's walled vegetable patch, was not based on Hill Top, but was a combination of walled gardens from the stately homes she visited as a child.
“…Stolen plants always grow, I stole some 'honesty' yesterday, it was put out to be burnt in a heap of garden refuse! I have something out of nearly every garden in the village".
A century later, we maintain Hill Top's garden much as Beatrix would have done. Both house and garden are traditional and informal. Fruit trees and vegetables grow in the flower beds, plus the odd weed here and there. All the plants grown are varieties which can survive the challenging Lake District climate; lots of rain combined with a stony, slightly acidic soil.
Historically, we have avoided having any interpretation in the garden, but in the last couple years we have tried some new approaches. When the house was closed due to Covid, and staff numbers were reduced, we wanted to make the garden a more engaging place to explore. We introduced small boards featuring quotes from Beatrix's letters, to discover among the plants. For example:
“The cottage is nearly smothered with roses, the rain has weighed them down over the porch and door".
These colourful interventions have brought Beatrix's voice into the garden, and reminded visitors of her knowledge and interest in flowers and plants. She was a prolific writer, and forged friendships exchanging knowledge of plants and flowers, so we have a rich archive of material to share.
This year we have developed the garden interpretation further. We've interspersed quotes from Pete Tasker, who has been gardener at Hill Top for more than 30 years. In this way, we have subtly introduced information about organic gardening methods and avoidance of weedkillers. Additionally, the garden labels will change with the seasons, to better reflect the phases of the garden through the year. The winter is long in the Lake District. Beatrix wrote one March: “the snow is not much but the wind is bitter. The week before was really fine, quite warm in the sun. I was doing a bit of gardening at Hill Top and it was almost hot under the wall". The garden really comes to life in May, as Beatrix knew, “Spring is the most beautiful time of year".
Hill Top garden interpretation project by Julie Firth (Senior Programming & Partnerships Officer), Pete Tasker (Gardener) and Stephanie Coxon (Welcome Manager)