William Wordsworth – Daffodils

Spring has to be one of my favourite seasons of the year.  I always feel a little like Mole, from the Wind in The Willows as he comes out of the ground and into the spring sunshine for the first time.  That wonderful fresh new smell of flowers bursting open, grass growing, the damp soil springing to life and the soft fragrance of early spring flowers that float on the breeze.

For me the first sign of spring is seeing the great swathes of golden headed stems adorn roadsides and riverbanks.  Driving round the windy roads of the Lake District in April, Daffodils popped up everywhere; in fields, beside lakes and in craggy rocks.  It is easy to see why William Wordsworth was so inspired by the landscape and county he grew up in to become one of the English languages most famous poets.  In fact, it is not difficult to see why the Lake District has inspired and nurtured so many artists and writers who have used the beauty and drama of the landscape to develop their art.  Wordsworth’s poetry is wholly encompassed by the landscapes that surrounded him and Dorothy’s journals give us a great insight into the flora and fauna of the area.

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William Wordsworth grew up in Cockermouth, the second of five children born to John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson.  His father was the legal representative for John Lowther, the 1st Earl of Lonsdale.  Due to the importance of his job, the family were granted a beautiful Georgia home in Cockermouth.  Wordsworth initially had an idyllic childhood, with days spent playing in the gardens of the family home with his brothers and sisters. Situated on the banks of the River Derwent, William developed his love of nature here as a young boy.   But the untimely death of first his mother, and then his father led to a dramatic change in the family’s circumstances and years of unhappiness.   A far cry from the happy days in Cockermouth as the much loved home was taken away, the family was split up and they left the house for good in 1784.  William and Dorothy, who had always been close as siblings were not reunited until 1795 having been sent to live with varying relations.

Wordsworth finally found solace and happiness once again with his sister Dorothy, when they purchased Dove Cottage in Grasmere in 1799, just weeks after William had walked past it with his brother.  From his cottage window he would have had an unadulterated view of the Lake at Grasmere and its beauty in all seasons with the mountains and hills beyond.  Both William and his sister, the diarist Dorothy, loved the outdoors and once again as adults they enjoyed each other’s company exploring the wilds of the mountain peaks and the pleasures of the lakeside walks.  She was for life, his mentor and confidante, and it was her journals and observations of the rugged terrain of Cumbria that often became a source of inspiration of Williams writing and a great passion for him.

Perhaps one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, I wandered Lonely as a cloud was inspired by the daffodils of springtime in the Lakes.

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffoldils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.’

William was inspired to write his famous ‘daffodils’ poem after a walk along Ullswater with Dorothy in 1804.  He actually wrote the poem, about two years after their walk and his inspiration came from Dorothy’s account in her journal from April 15th 1802.  She wrote that the daffodils ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the Lake.’  Dorothy’s journals clearly depict the wonder of seasons amongst the Lakes and were often a source for inspiration for William.  His poem was first published in 1807 and his final edited version was published in 1815.

“ When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park we saw a few daffodils close to the waterside. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing.”

This beautiful, eloquent observation of the flowers in spring show her connection to nature and the powerful descriptions must have been wonderful for William to read upon his return from his travels.  Dorothy maintained her journal throughout her time at Dove Cottage.

As Wordsworths family expanded, Dove Cottage became too small and the family moved locally before settling finally at Rydal Mount, only a couple of miles down the road from Dove Cottage, facing Rydal Water.  Whilst there he purchased a piece of woodland beside the property, originally called Rashfield.  Initially this purchase was a defence mechanism, when he was faced with eviction from Rydal Mount.  He planned to build a house on the plot.  However, in the end this was not needed and instead he gave the land to his daughter Dora.  When she tragically died, Wordsworth’s wife and their gardener had the woodland planted with hundreds of daffodils in honour of her.  It is known as Dora’s Field, to this day.  There is a wonderful oasis of calm as you sit amongst the trees and daffodils, overlooking in the distance the hills behind Rydal Water and breathe in the damp smell of woodland moss.  The field was left to the National Trust in 1935 so that future generations could enjoy this haven.

‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance’

Yet it wasn’t just the beautiful of the spring daffodils that inspired Wordsworth.  Throughout his works, we see references to other flora and fauna which surrounded him. His poem, ‘Lines Written In Early Spring’, mentions the smaller wildflowers which would have carpeted woodland paths, and roadsides;

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, 

The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; 

And ’tis my faith that every flower 

Enjoys the air it breathes.’ 

For me Spring, is the long awaited breath of fresh air after the cold, dark winter.  A time to take stock of life, plan for the summer, look forward to warmer and lighter evenings and a sign of happy times to come.

‘And then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils.’

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For the Adventure

Dove Cottage is run by the Wordsworth Trust is open is to the public.  I thoroughly recommend visiting the house and the museum as a fascinating insight into the life of William and his family.  The house operates on a timed ticket system, as it is very small.  but the museum, which houses a wonderful array of archives from the Wordsworth Family can be visited while you wait.

Visit https://wordsworth.org.uk/visit/dove-cottage.html

For details of Rydal Mount visit http://www.rydalmount.co.uk/

Dora’s Field is owned and looked after by the National Trust https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ambleside/features/daffodils-at-doras-field-

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Beatrix Potter – Writer, Illustrator & Countrywoman

I had never really thought about the connection between writers and gardens, until I attended a workshop at the Chelsea Physic Gardens last May, hosted by writer and journalist Jackie Bennett.  Suddenly a whole world of beautiful gardens and landscapes took on a whole new meaning as we saw how they had influenced the lives and work of writers such as Jane Austin, Roald Dahl, William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.

Many a gardener will tell you about the ability to get completely lost in their work – time and life escapes you as you plant and plan, sometimes successfully and other times not so.  The little personal oasis offers a place to relax and unwind, a place to escape the toils and troubles of our everyday lives and place to just stop, breathe and take a moment to look at the beauty the English countryside and nature can give us.   I’m sure many will be familiar with the Tales of Beatrix Potter and her beautiful illustrations of talking bunnies and cottage gardens.

I have always loved the stories, ever since my mum read the Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle to me as a child.  Many children and adults will be familiar with Peter Rabbit and his escapades in Mr McGregor’s garden, and perhaps not so familiar with Tales such as The Tale of Pie and the Patty-Pan.  Perhaps even less familiar are we that many of the illustrations represent not only Beatrix Potter’s love of gardens and indeed her own garden at Hill Top, near Hawkshead in Cumbria but also of the village of Near Sawrey where she lived.

For someone so famous for writing children’s books, strangely it was not as a writer that she really wished to be known and remembered, and indeed there was so much more to her life that we possibly realise.  Beatrix was born into a wealthy family who had made their money in the Cotton industry.  Although her father was a lawyer, he had no need financially to practice.  The family lived a comfortable life at 2 Bolton Gardens, Kensington and spent their Springs and Summers staying in beautiful country estates around the British Isles.  No doubt these trips were holidays but also to escape the pollution of Victorian London and to enable Bolton Gardens to be cleaned.  It was on their adventures that Beatrix began to fall in love with the British countryside.  From a young age Beatrix painted and developed a keen eye for painting fungi, plants and flowers.

For many years the family holidayed at Dalguise in Scotland, but when this was no longer available they turned their attention to the Lake District. Close to Scotland and with similar breath-taking landscapes and water, it was here that the shy Beatrix Potter’s heart found happiness. For the rest of her life, Potter became a prominent figure in the Lake District, not only as a writer and illustrator, but as a gardener, landowner, sheep breeder, agriculturalist and wife.  She described in later years London as her ‘unloved birthplace’ and both her and her brother Bertram found solace in the fresh air, surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

Hill Top in near Sawrey, just to the West of Windermere was purchased with the money she had received in royalties from her early books, published by Fredrick Warne.  After the untimely death of her fiancée, Frederick Warne, she bought Hill Top within two months and set about transforming it into the home and garden she had dreamed of for so long.  Hill Top was and still is a warm and cosy 17th century cottage, which is part of a larger estate and far, set in some 30 acres.

Beatrix launched herself into the pleasures of building a garden.  She laid out the main paths and dug deep flower beds which led to the cottage as the main focal point.  Although she had experiences of formal gardens of larger country houses, Beatrix chose an informal way of planting, opting for dense planting, mixing hardy plants with fruits, herbs and vegetables.  She bought plants from a local nursery called Mawson Bros’ in Windermere and also gratefully received cuttings, seeds and plants from the neighbours and friends of the village and hedgerows.   She filled her new found space with lavenders, sweet williams, Japanese anemones, roses, foxgloves, phlox, lilies, azaleas as well as daffodils in Spring.

But aside from her garden, Beatrix Potter had the beauty of the Lakeland landscape as her inspiration, and she loved to walk the lands and fields, incorporating the rolling hills, little streams and rockeries, rolling meadows and small woodlands into her books.

She surrounded herself with colour and beauty and many of the nooks and crannies of her garden as well as the village can be seen in her books: Her vegetable patch became Mr McGregor’s Garden and Jemima Puddleducks hiding place for her eggs, her front door with its foxgloves and roses and the long front path with its deep borders and trellis work was featured in The Tale of Tom Kitten.

Yet, increasingly she threw herself into life as a countrywoman, breeding a fine stock of Herwick Sheep, showing at Agricultural shows, buying farms and large areas of Lakeland to ensure its survival and preservation away from modern developments.  Her friendship with Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founding members of The National Trust was also key in ensuring the preservation of so many thousands of acres of land.

After her marriage to her solicitor, Mr Heelis, they bought Castle Cottage just the other side of the village and Beatrix began to lead almost two lives.  At Hill Top she continued to be Beatrix Potter, writer and illustrator.  She used it for work, for developing her garden and for meeting people whilst at Castle Cottage she was Mrs Heelis, farmer, agriculturalist and conservationist, and fiercely protective of her private life.  She later said that this was how she wished to be remembered – as a countrywoman and wife.  It seems that these were, in the end, more important to her than her writing and illustrating.

Beatrix Potter died on 22 December 1943, following bronchitis.  There were to be no flowers or mourning and her ashes were scattered above Hill Top. At her death she owned 15 farms, several cottages and around 4000 acres of land which went to the National trust.

Standing on the hillsides surrounding Hill Top, looking over to Windermere it is easy to see why Beatrix fell in love with the Lakes.  I’ve always felt much abler to write and read when in the countryside, there is something incredibly therapeutic and humbling about being surrounded by such vast swathes of countryside, mountains and water.  For me, I always feel like I’ve been transported into another world when I turn off the M6, and even to another era.  Standing in the garden of Hill Top, its almost hard not to expect her to appear from the cottage as you hear the crackle of the range and the old Grandfather clock chime twelve.


For The Adventure

Hill Top is owned by the National Trust and open to the public.  Situated in the village of Near Sawrey near Hawskshead.  There is a small car park in the village (which used to be Potter’s orchard) with a short walk to the cottage.  It is suitable for families, but take note that entry is by timed ticket and the cottage is small, so it’s worth getting there early.   The garden is at its best in late Spring and Summer.  The small village also has many places of note which are also featured in Beatrix Potter’s Books such as Buckle Yeat and the Tower Bank Arms, as well as Castle Cottage which can been seen from Hill Top across the field opposite.

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top

Nearby Wray Castle is where she spent some summer holidays with her family and can be visited on the same day as Hill Top given enough time.

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wray-castle

For the mind

If you wish to read further about Beatrix Potter or indeed writers and their gardens, I can recommend these books:

Marta McDowell – Beatrix Potters Gardening Life – published by Timber Press, Portland, Oregan.

The Writer’s Garden – Jackie Bennett – published by Francis Lincoln Limited, London

Beatrix Potters Hill Top, published by The National Trust – property guide