22 August 2016

70 years of opening at Hill Top

We're looking back to the 1940's to when Hill Top first opened to visitors:

Seventy years ago on July 7th, Hill Top opened to the public for the first time, after being left to the National Trust by Beatrix Potter.
Hill Top with the Coniston fells beyond

Beatrix wrote in her will:

That the rooms and the furnishings used by me at Hill Top farmhouse may be kept in their present condition and not let to a tenant and it is my wish that any other objects of interest belonging to me in any other of my cottages and farmhouses may be preserved therein.”

In 1944, whilst Britain was still at war and houses were not to be left empty, Ethel Hartley came to stay and created a notebook based on her conversations with William Heelis.

She wrote in her ‘Notebook of Ideas’ “It is a joyous task to be asked to live in Hill Top & in its atmosphere of peace & quiet, to listen: think: suggest: & help to plan for the day when the Beatrix Potter memorial can be completed.”

Beatrix and William discussed at some length how the house could be opened as a place of pilgrimage for those enjoyed the little books, and as an interesting example of Lakeland vernacular architecture.  Surviving his wife by only eighteen months, William was unable to put into action some of the plans they had discussed, some of which seem quite radical – for example, opening a Peter Rabbit tea garden, encouraging the Girl Guides to put on plays during the summer; and opening a shop: "Peter Rabbit books could be on sale, with postcards, calendars etc. All these would make money and go toward the upkeep” 

In 1946, the house did open to the public – with an entrance fee of one shilling. Mrs Susan Ludbrook was the first custodian and only member of staff.  It immediately became a popular destination leading Bruce Thompson to admit to Time Magazine in 1946:

“We need to be careful what we do about Hill Top’s propaganda: in the first seven weeks we have already had 1,200 visitors!”

In the early 1980’s the custodian was joined by a “houseman” and a couple of part time assistants. In 1992 the role of volunteer room-guide was introduced and we still have one or two of these original volunteers helping us!

We continue to evolve and adapt the needs of the house for the benefit of our visitors, using modern conservation techniques to monitor and protect its precious objects,  so Hill Top might remain a must see destination for visitors to the Lake District for the next seventy years.
Detail from the bedroom at Hill Top

“It was never intended to be just merely a lovely, old period farmhouse. It was essentially & will always remain Beatrix Potter's house. She loved pretty things & simple things, & odd things. In Hill Top she wanted to find a home for them all.” (Ethel Hartley)

As well as celebrating this special anniversary in 2016 we're also marking the milestone of Beatrix Potter's 150th Birthday. Find out more about the celebrations here and join in the fun! 

Words by Jane Watson

1 April 2016

Sweet peas and primrose pottage.

I've written before about my dislike of winter and the wet and gloomy days it brings, but I'm delighted to say that the clocks have gone forward, there are lambs in the fields, frogspawn in the ponds and one of my favourite wild flowers, the primrose, is blooming in Hill Top garden and the surrounding woods.

Primrose at Hill Top

The primrose is the sacred flower of the Norse goddess of love Freya and gets it's common name from the medieval Latin 'prima rosa' meaning first flower. Like many wild flowers it has a wealth of common names depending on which part of the country you live, including Butter Rose, Jack in Box, Jack-in-the-Green, King-Charles-in-the-Oak, Lady's Frills, Milk Maid, Primorole, St. Peter's Wort, Summeren, Spink, May Spink, and  Summerlocks. Primroses were considered fairy flowers in Ireland and Wales but they represented wantonness in England, as expressed in the phrase 'to be led down the primrose path'.

The alleged medicinal properties of the primrose are equally numerous (as always, please don't try any of these at home); in the past it was considered a blood purifier, and useful for gout, palsy, and lumbago. An ointment made from the leaves and flowers was commonly used for skin problems. It was said to heal wounds, burns and scalds, and to soften wrinkles, lighten freckles and other discolorations of the skin. Primrose was also used for vertigo, hysteria, epilepsy, convulsions, palsy, backache, cystitis, and urine retention! Handily, it was also used as a cure for alcoholism - probably brought on by those short gloomy winter days.
The flowers were also the chief ingredient in a dish called Primrose Pottage which was made by boiling pounded flowers, honey, almond milk, saffron, rice flour and powdered ginger. It was served garnished with flowers and surprisingly for a fifteenth century recipe actually sounds quite edible. 

One of the things about being a gardener is that the year is divided up not so much by calendar months but by the seasons and the tasks required in each season. This time of year is always time to start sowing seeds and some of the first to be sown are the sweet peas. Now, if you watch 'Gardener's World' of a Friday evening you'll probably see Monty Don sowing his sweet peas in autumn, but up here in the cold wet North I prefer to wait until spring.

Sweet pea sowing kit (other seed merchants are available!)

Sweet peas can be awkward to germinate, they have a hard seed coat and if sown straight into the ground can rot off. Some sources say to soak the seeds in water for a day but that didn't work for me at all and others say to chip a small section of the seed coat off with a sharp knife (too many injuries and seeds flying off across the greenhouse). My own technique involves a pair of pliers and some sandpaper. Take the seed and grip it gently but securely in the pliers and rub the seed on the sandpaper several times until a small hole appears in the seed coat. Just make sure you don't sandpaper the pale coloured 'eye' where the shoot will appear from.

A nice neat hole

Once that's done, pop the seeds into some compost, (I always start mine off in the greenhouse), water them in and in a couple of weeks you should see green shoots appearing. Grow them on for a few weeks until they are about 10cm tall then pinch out the growing tip to encourage bushy side shoots. When the seedlings look big enough to fend for themselves, plant them out in the garden in some nice rich soil with some canes or hazel poles to support them. I like to use small twigs as well to keep the young plants from rocking about in the wind.

A light covering of compost and they're ready to go.

By early Summer you should be picking your first blooms and the more you pick, the more flowers will be produced. Try to make sure you don't leave any old flowers on the plant as they'll turn into seed pods and slow down the flower production. Incidentally, if you want that lovely sweet pea scent, and that's really half the point of growing them in the first place, buy old-fashioned types, some of the modern frilly-flowered varieties hardly smell at all.

The end result

For my musical link this time I could have gone for 'Primrose Polka' by Jimmy Shand but I've used that one in a blog before, or 'Primrose' by the bizarrely named and equally bizarre sounding United Sacred Harp Musical Association, but I plumped for this by 'The Modfather' Paul Weller.
And just for good measure here's a poem by our old friend Robert Herrick (he of 'Gather Ye Rosebuds' fame) and it's called, appropriately enough, 'The Primrose'.

Ask me why I send you here
This sweet Infanta of the year?
Ask me why I send to you
This primrose, thus bepearl'd with dew?
I will whisper to your ears
The sweets of love are mix'd with tears.

Ask me why this flower does show
So yellow-green, and sickly too?
Ask me why the stalk is weak
And bending (yet it doth not break)?
I will answer, These discover

What fainting hopes are in a lover.

Enjoy the spring, see you soon.

Words and pictures by Gardener Pete / Robert Herrick

22 January 2016

Salvage Training Day at East Riddlesden Hall

It was hard to miss the news coverage of the fire at Clandon in April, last year. It was a shocking event that was particularly poignant for those of us with a personal involvement in the heritage sector. Times like these make us especially aware that an event such as this could potentially happen at any one of our properties.

National Trust staff work with the fire brigade to retrieve precious historical items.

A week after the fire at Clandon. Members of the fire crew carry a gilded frame away from the ruins.

All National Trust properties have procedures in place to help them deal with the aftermath of emergencies such as fire and flood. An essential part of emergency preparedness is staff training, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend a salvage course at East Riddlesden Hall earlier this month. The day included a full-on salvage training exercise which involved the local fire brigade! National Trust staff from across the country came together to learn about the best practice for dealing with an emergency.

Throughout the day we were briefed on planning procedures and took part in salvage workshops to prepare us for the salvage exercise in the afternoon; these included how to give first-aid treatment to water-damaged historical items. For the exercise, we were split into two main teams: the Salvage Team and the Recovery Team. Once the fire brigade had given the go-ahead, the Salvage Team were suited and booted to enter the building to salvage historic items. I was part of the Recovery Team, whose job it was to receive the items from the Salvage Team and administer first-aid treatment to the water-damaged objects in the designated ‘safe area’. Of course the items being salvaged in the exercise weren’t part of East Riddlesden’s historic collection, so a water-logged copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary was one of the items we had to treat! This item went into our make-shift wind tunnel which we had created using upturned tables, polythene sheeting and a couple of fans.

The fire engine outside East Riddlesden Hall at the end of day.

Once the exercise had ended we met with the fire brigade to review how the task had gone. Overall, everyone was very pleased with how we had coped with the situation. Taking part in a practical exercise helps to simulate what a real emergency situation would be like and prompts us to consider the finer details needed to help us prepare for them. The day helped me acquire new skills, but I just hope I never have to use them! So I will sign off now, whilst touching all available items made of wood…

Roisin, Assistant House Steward, Hill Top & Beatrix Potter Gallery 


9 October 2015

Bloomin' Foreigners

Firstly I feel I must apologize for my absence from the blog this summer, a combination of lots to do and a touch of writers block and suddenly it's Autumn again! 

Misty Autumn morning

The summer in the Lakes has been 'average' at best with lots of rainy days interspersed with some sunny ones, but since the schools went back, as is often the case, we've had the best weather of the year so far, verging on the mythical Indian Summer I talked about in a previous blog.

Perhaps because of the 'little and often' supply of rain this summer, the garden at Hill Top has done pretty well. The borders were full of flowers in June, July and August and the flowering season seems to have gone on longer than usual. I even seem to have kept on top of the slug population in the veg garden and produced some reasonably good crops (I'm particularly pleased with my black kale this year).

Black Kale

One downside of the rain is that the grass has carried on growing all year. Normally the drier weather in summer slows its growth down a bit and I get a break from trudging round after the mower but this year it just kept growing and growing....and growing. Fortunately there isn't much grass at Hill Top, although the village verges need doing regularly, but at the other garden I look after at Monk Coniston there is rather a lot. All I can say is thank goodness for a good pair of earphones and an iTunes playlist on my phone!

There's been a lot of talk about immigration over the summer and I recently got to thinking how many of our favourite garden plants are actually immigrants themselves, even in a quintessentially English cottage garden like Hill Top. 

Kaffir lily
Top of my list at the moment is Hesperanthera coccinea (used to be called Schizostylis but it changed, don't ask me why) the Kaffir lily which is a native of South Africa and is flowering merrily in Hill Top garden, a very long way from home. Its crimson flowers provide a welcome splash of colour late in the season although one point to note about the Kaffir lily is that the flowers always face towards the sun, (probably looking longingly towards their homeland), so don't plant it on the southern facing side of a path like I did or all you'll ever see is the backs of the flowers!

Another cottage garden favourite, the Dahlia, originates in Mexico where the Aztecs used the tubers as a source of food (they're closely related to Jerusalem artichokes), indeed they were introduced into Britain for that very purpose but proved more popular for their decorative properties than their culinary ones. I've never eaten Dahlia tubers but they'd look a whole lot nicer in the veg garden than a row of potatoes (an import from Peru incidentally). Dahlia crisps anyone?

Dahlias - yum yum!

The list of 'foreign' plants in Hill top garden goes on and on; Chinese wisteria, Japanese quince, Eucryphia from Chile, Sneezewort from the USA, even that most English of flowers the rose has species from Asia, America and North Africa, all of which have made their way into the varieties we grow. 
It's the same story with fruit and vegetables, Jemimah Puddleduck's rhubarb originated in China, runner beans in Central America and even Peter Rabbit's favourite, radishes hail from South-East Asia,  So I think it's true to say that without these foreign imports, our English Country Gardens would be frankly pretty dull and our English cuisine duller still!

For my musical link this time I could have had 'Illegal Alien' by Genesis or 'Immigrant Song' by Led Zeppelin but they're both pretty awful so I've gone with an American theme and chosen this on the subject of immigrants and this about cutting grass!

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Gardener Pete.

31 July 2015

B is for Beatrix and Birthdays :)

Beatrix and I have something rather special in common   - it’s both of our birthdays this month! By the time that this post goes up on the tinternet it will have already been Beatrix's. B’s is on the 28th and mine… it’s today! J
I wonder how B would have celebrated her birthday? I would like to think that she would have celebrated in some big way but really I think that she would have had a quiet one with William at her side. You may remember my first blog post, approximately 2 years ago now, when I wrote about Moss Eccles Tarn (and coincidentally lost my car keys whilst trying to take some photos of the water lilies). I told you how Beatrix would draw whilst William would row on the tarn, it sounds like a pretty idyllic day out on a summer’s day.

Last month I told you about my move to Townend and, well it’s happened, I’m here and I’m really enjoying it!

I found out a surprising connection between my newly adopted family, the Browne’s (who lived in and owned Townend) and Beatrix. Whilst doing a spot of research on the house and the family for my tour I found out that B would visit Townend when the last Browne, Clara, was living in the house.  We know that Beatrix went and had a look around the house and is known to have passed comment on Mr Browne's prized carvings. It is said that she called him “The tiresome Mr Browne” and that he had the outdated Victorian habit of over embellishment.

Clearly she wasn't a fan of the work he had put so much effort it to.. my Dad has a very similar opinion, he loves old furniture and antiques and doesn't like that someone has changed them... in his eyes, not for the better. Troutbeck however, he loves. But that's ok, we all have different opinions on things and that's what keeps things interesting.

If you have a spare hour or so I think you should definitely pop over to the house up in Troutbeck and come have a look around this Lake District gem for yourselves :) (Can you tell that I'm enjoying my time up here much?)

If you're anything like me summer will make you think of the sunshine, bbqs, eating outdoors.. ice creams (I'll look like an ice cream soon.. )and beer gardens.. but one thing I've been fancying recently is a spot of afternoon tea.

One of my favourite cups and saucers that Beatrix owned is this little set..

They're rather striking and have always taken my eye. And coincidentally I am told that they came back to Hill Top from Troutbeck Park Farm just up the road.

Officially this one is down as a coffee cup. I'm strictly a tea girl myself (the smell of coffee I can do, I can even handle a slice of coffee cake but the real stuff.. no thanks). However that doesn't put me off, I still love these with their gilt rims and painted flowers these pretty things were made by Royal Worcester in around 1870.

Ironically I used to hate pink, I used to think it was a “girl’s colour”, yellow was my favourite colour and still is but now I love it and I love these! I don't think of myself as one of those olden day ladies by any means but I could just see myself having a cup of tea in the garden with these... and maybe a delicious scone as well.

With its new replacement handle this cup has certainly seen better days but on the flip side maybe it means that it's also been well loved and well used?
Cup Of Tea?!!
They date from approximately 1770 made in porcelain.. The original handle was replaced with a woven rush one at some point but when it was attached a crack appeared at the bottom. Do you think that the cup was dropped, overused, or maybe it was always a tad bit wobbly? I don't know, but whatever happened to it and wherever it comes from I think it's absolutely charming!

They are one of a pair and the other cup and saucer are in good health but I like this damaged two piece better.

Now, usually my usual “Heelllooee There” is something that I really like from the collection. This time it's awkwardly something that I don't like that much.

It's these two people! I don't know what the heck they are doing; I've always thought that they might be dancing? Gossiping? Or just generally hanging out.. I don't know what they are doing but like the previous cup and saucer they are one of a pair.

"Dancing in the moonlight.."
Think having two of these is a good thing? Na, it means there are two of the things to look at! Don't get me wrong, I would never try and hide them behind something so they can never be seen but personally, they're not my sort of thing...

They're Staffordshire and made between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Each ornament has both a girl and a boy; they have white hair painted brown, blue shoes and shells around the base... They're just odd haha. 

On that bombshell I'll be off.. (to London where we'll be celebrating my birthday :) ).

Have an absolutely fantastico weekend, I hope the sun shines where you are :)

Ta ta for now :)

Words and pictures by Natalie


26 June 2015

Travelling In Style!

Thinking about how to begin this month's post I realised that Beatrix and I have a few different things in common – a rather snappy dress sense, a thing for the sheeps (I am Welsh after all.. or at least that's my excuse) and we both have a bit of a thing for adventuring around and exploring new places.

Beatrix may never have ventured out of the United Kingdom but she sure got around, exploring a lot of different places within the country, something I love doing.
There are all kinds of journeys – long ones which require a multitude of snacks, small, little ones that zip past and those you remember for a variety of reasons.

If you have peeked at the Hill Top and Beatrix Potter Gallery's Facebook page over the last few weeks you will have seen that Michael Portillo brought his railway journey up to the lakes to see B and the team at Hill Top. 

He was here to find out more about Beatrix, her friendship with Hardwicke Rawnsley and the part she played in the formation of the National Trust. I was lucky enough to be able to see some of the filming at Hill Top. I didn't quite get my on screen debut just yet but watching it happen was interesting so keep your peepers peeled for it on the tele in the near future!

Micheal P may favour the railways for his journeys but this isn't the only way to travel check out this amazing ship that we have at Hill Top.

Land Ahoooyyy!
To say that I don't know much about ships is a huge understatement and my experience with them is pretty limited – unless rowing a small wooden boat on Durham River counts? With these long arms I'm practically made for rowing..
So to find out more about this vessel I've done what all good detectives would do... I googled!

This is a three masted ship and apparently made by a sailor between 1870 and 1900-ish. From my research (aka scrutinizing lots of images of ships) I'm going to make an educated guess and say that this is a type of schooner? These are sailing vessels with two or more masts often designed for trades that required speed and windward ability.. trades like, pirating, “Ohh Arrrg!”
With all those sails I imagine that it would have had no problem zipping through the waves or lakes!

A slower, more sedate, unconventional and downright feathery mode of transport is this month's
“Heeeellooooe There!”.

Sure maybe you wouldn't want to use him for long journeys, mainly because he is extremely dinky in real life and to be honest he's a bit out of practice after having been in a cabinet for such a long time.

I know what you're thinking, “A swan is not a mode of transport!” but I would counter this with, “Have any of you seen Doctor Doolite?” the original of course... He had this amazing great big pink sea snail and no one questioned this as a mode of transport when it was time for Emma to head back to London! I absolutely love this film, but back to the swan :)

With a fleur-de-lys painted on one side of his body and a lady in traditional dress knitting on the other it could have possibly been produced by Quimper Faience in Brittany, France. This pottery's design reflects a strong traditional Breton influence and a lot of the older pieces are strongly sought after.
Luckily for us this little guy is staying firmly at Hill Top!

This year's top model pose..
He may be petite but he wears some pretty flamboyant eye makeup.. I mean red eyeliner? That's a bold statement but he is definitely working this look. I myself might give it a miss, with my extremely pale skin I worry I'd end up looking scary rather than spectacular!

Whether you choose a ship or a swan to complete your journey you'll need to have a general idea of which way to go, don't you?

This is down as an ornament on our inventory, it lives in the ivory cabinet but to be honest I'm not completely sure of it's actual purpose or even if it has one..some things are 'just because'.
What are your thoughts on it? 

The hand in the middle twizzles around and to me could point you in the right direction – in my mind the numbers could even be routes? (Does this make any sense or is it just something in my mind??)
My other thought about it was that it reminded me of the big hand from the old lottery adverts.. 

“It could be you!!!”
Anyway I digress, this object came from London and is marked on the bottom ‘H Rodrigues, 42 Piccadilly, London’ – but apart from that we can only guess about its history. Could this have some to Beatrix from her parents or grandparents along with the other bits and bobs of ivory?

My own history with Hill Top and Beatrix has only been relatively small; about 2 and a bit years (ish) but like Beatrix I’m going on another little journey of my own.
I’m happy to say that I’ll be working over at Townend from mid-July until the end of October on a little secondment

However, never fear, this isn’t farewell, we all take different paths on our journeys and you’ll still find me strutting my stuff up and down B’s path one day a week.

There is actually a little connection with Beatrix and the Browne’s of Townend but more of that next week!

See you all in July!

Ta ta for now

Words and photos by Natalie

18 June 2015

A Taste of Hill Top

Beatrix Potter didn't waste time wandering round a supermarket agonizing over the red labels for saturated fat and sugar on everything she fancied.  Nearly everything would have come from the farm or garden - just buying in flour, salt, sugar, bread from the baker and maybe some spices.
Hill Top cattle posing in Windermere

There are still beef cattle and sheep grazing Hill Top land but Beatrix also kept Dairy Shorthorns for milk, pigs, horses, an assortment of hens, ducks, geese and turkeys as well as collies (such as her favourite, Kep) to work the sheep.  She also grew oats and turnips - Beatrix says she 'singled the turnips when she had time'.
Pete's veg patch in Hill Top garden

Gooseberries amongst the flowers
There was also a productive vegetable garden - as there is today, thanks to Pete - and fruit trees bearing apples, plums, pears and damsons, not to mention fruits, such as blackberries from the hedgerows for making blackberry and apple jelly.
 Beatrix was nothing if not fair.  Whilst wanting to keep the best apples for herself, she appreciated the need for local children to 'scrump' - what is better than a stolen apple straight from the tree?  She tied ribbons round the trees the children could help themselves from but heaven help them if they touched the others!  At one time there was a royal procession of apple trees - Blenheim Orange, Norfolk Royal, King Russet and George Royal.
We think this old Bramley in the paddock dates from Beatrix's time

Animals would have been butchered on the farm - no traumatic journey to the slaughterhouse - and milk made into cheese and butter in the dairy.
In the left of this building in the farmyard the pigs were hung and salted and the right side was the dairy

Beatrix didn't like 'modern' machinery so most of the work would have been done using hand tools and horse drawn implements.  During the First World War, when men were called from the land to serve, life must have been particularly hard.  Writing to a potential employee, Beatrix explains that she did most of the cooking herself and also looked after the poultry, the orchard, flower and vegetable garden, as well as helping with the hay.  So she wasn't just digging sheep out of the snow!
So, what might she have cooked?  She was definitely familiar with Roly Poly Pudding and Pies and Patty Pans (perhaps filled with beef from the farm).  Lamb - or more likely the tastier hoggett (the next stage up from lamb - the year after it was born) or mutton, would have featured, perhaps with peas, beans and potatoes from the garden. Hill Top kitchen might have been filled with the smoke from bacon frying.

Without freezers, preserves such as jams and chutneys would have been important and she mentions a visit to Wray Castle where they were pickling walnuts.

So - no wasted time at the supermarket but still ...... whenever did Beatrix Potter have time to write and illustrate her stories?!
Sue and ticket office team. 
p.s.If you're wondering where Sam the spaniel is ,,, he was hiding behind the camera when I took the photo of cattle!

29 May 2015

You've got May-le :)

Hi there!
It seems an awful long time since my last post, what’s it been? 6 weeks (ish)? In my last update I had been giving it the big talk with all my positivity around our warmer weather but gosh that old saying “Ne’er cast a clout till May is out” has never been more appropriate…
It’s not just the weather that’s been busy this past month.  As well as helping to keep Hill Top and the gallery running I’ve been lucky enough to attend a National Trust run course, Convestival. This is aimed at volunteer managers or those who are getting more involved in volunteering.
This fantastic 2 day course took place  at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire – this year it had a superhero theme!  It was a festival style experience, through the day sessions were held in marquees and you could choose which ones were most relevant to you. The festival theme continued through the evening . We enjoyed a superhero menu (including ninja turtle pizzas :P), a live band and a free “schnippel” of cider from the Calke estate.  It was also fantastic to meet other people in similar roles as me and others who had completely different responsibilities.
On the whole it was a relaxed course but you really did learn a lot, not just from the tutors but from other attendees.
I loved the whole thing from start to finish (could you tell?)! I would definitely recommend it to anyone involved in volunteering :)

To infinity and beyond?!
Thanks to Sarah and Rachel for giving me a lift :)
I love getting feedback on my blog posts, I’m constantly asking family and friends to check them out and they’re usually pretty complimentary. However, last time around, someone, whose opinion I really value wasn’t so keen.
This man loves antiques and likes to read more about the objects that we have within our collection as well as what I get up to (I hope!). So, this month I’m reverting back to my original format.
Dad, this one is for you J
I can’t remember when I found this first object, sometime in February I think, and I’ve had a photo of it for aggggges, ready to be put up on here.

It was the tortoise shell top that really caught my eye and once I carefully got it out of its case and got a proper look at it… it’s really lovely!

It is a little oval purse, the front is inset with gold and it’s got the most gorgeously, bright purple silk inside.

This is one of those “I would definitely have this” type of objects! Although it’s not very practical for today’s modern lady. As dainty as I aim to be, I can’t see my ‘buy 9 and get the 10th drink free’ cards or all the pounds I have for the amusement basketball hoops (which I am actually pretty good at!) fitting in there.
From what little knowledge I have of Beatrix I don’t know if she would be using this type of thing up here in the lakes. Then again from personal experience I know that not everyone lives in their walking gear so maybe I should keep more of an open mind.

“Hello there!” has been missing recently but it’s back with a vengeance! I have been looking at this little lady for the best part of a year. She’s tucked away in a store so doesn’t get many visitors; something that I think should change.
So here she is!

"I'm a laaaadddyy"
I’m not exactly sure what it is I like about her as most people I’ve spoken to think she’s a bit creepy..  but when you look at her tiny face she’s not scary at all.
She’s pretty pale – it must be all that time in the dark and her hands are in a strange position but I can confirm that she is not a zombie! There is nothing to fear.

" 'Cause this is Thriiiilllleerrr.."
Yeah, what about the hands… they are stretched out and some of her fingers are curled under. Is she playing the piano? Pushing a pram? Doing an interpretive dance?
We don’t really know, what do you think?
Is this something that B was given as a child or perhaps she had inherited it?
I like to imagine her making up voices and personalities for her inanimate objects – it’s something that I did and still do (who says you can’t have a stuffed unicorn at the aged of 27 ¾?).
Look at this beautiful Davenport desk, dating roughly from the 1830’s/40’s. It currently sits in the corner of the Treasure Room quite happily, not making any fuss and many people don’t give it much notice.

Over winter we had to move him into the New Room so that we could carry out some essential work and I learnt a number of things. 1) Its really, REALLY heavy! (not advisable to try if you’ve skipped your Weetabix that morning) and 2) it’s got some rather special secret compartments.
This is what Catherine and Rosemary showed me one afternoon after I helped shuffle it back into its place.
They did something special and then all was revealed – pens, pencils and lots of what look like funeral mourning card envelopes.

Boosh - ta da!
Back in the day, a mixture of tradition and respect saw people send cards in black edged envelopes. Used throughout Europe these carried the sad news of a loved ones passing.
Did I just see some of the things that B had around the time of Norman’s death? She bought the house in 1905 after all. Or possibly one of her parents?
Everything looks so neat and ordered, like she could come back and use it.
Do you think that this was all put inside “For the time being”? we all do it, but unfortunately  these items hardly see the light of day again.
Whatever the reason I feel like I’ve stumbled across a sort of time capsule and I was really rather taken with it.
Then again, isn’t all of Hill Top a step back in time? “Letttttt's do the time warp again!” I wonder what I would leave behind for future people to find and ponder over..
Whilst I go to mull it over I shall leave you for another month, I hope by the time I’m back we’ll all be able to “cast our clouts”!
Have a fabulous June!
Ta ta for now J
Words and pictures by Natalie

12 May 2015

The Primrose path

May is probably my busiest time of year. After a long winter and a colder-than-average early Spring, we've had a few warm days and everything, flowers, weeds and grass, has sprung to life and is growing like crazy. There isn't much grass to cut at Hill Top but at Monk Coniston, one of the other gardens I look after, there is enough to keep me busy for quite a few hours. I cut it the week before last and I've just been over there and it already needs doing again!

Given the amount of work to do at this time of year, it probably wasn't a great idea to take a week off for a 'boys trip' (or more accurately a 'middle-aged and increasingly decrepit blokes trip'). We stayed in a remote and basic bothy near Inverie in Knoydart on the North-West coast of Scotland, and spent three days mountain biking and walking whilst dodging the rain and snow showers. 

Quite snowy on the tops!

One of the highlights of the trip (apart from the excellent Old Forge which claims to be the remotest pub in Britain) was the sheer number of wild flowers.
On one of our jaunts up an unpronounceable Scottish munro, large areas of the lower slopes were literally covered in wild primroses, accompanied by wood anemones, dog violets, lesser celandine and even a common lizard warming up in the sun. The surprising thing was all these woodland flowers were growing quite happily a long way from the nearest woodland. We came to the conclusion that at one time in the past (before the clearances?) the area would have been wooded, and although the trees have gone, the flowers have remained and are thriving thanks to the very low grazing pressure. We saw quite a few Red Deer but no sheep at all while we were there.

Primroses by the thousand

Back in the real world, my little greenhouse is bursting at the seams with all sorts of vegetable and flower seedlings all waiting until they are big and brave enough to go out and face the slugs and snails and mice and rabbits and cold and wind and rain of Hill Top garden. I've got marrows and broad beans, hollyhocks and everlasting flowers, lettuces and kale, pumpkins and French beans and I'll be planting them out over the next few weeks. I've put in my onion sets and planted potatoes already and I'll be sowing seeds like beetroot, peas and spinach straight into the ground as soon as I get chance. I'll keep you updated on their progress.

Waiting to go out

Other plants looking good at the moment include the white wisteria on the house wall which is just coming into flower and the Azaleas opposite which will soon be their usual riot of colour. Having looked back at some photos from last year, the flowering time seem to be about two weeks behind last year. 

Something which you just have to see and hear if you're in the area is the 'Harmonica Botanica' currently installed in the fern house at Wray Castle. A plant growing in a pot has electrodes clipped to its leaves and roots and the change in resistance as the plant grows is fed into a box of electronic gibbons which converts the signals into wonderful soothing, constantly changing music. One of our visitors found it so relaxing that they fell asleep and missed their bus home! Here's a link showing the Harmonica when it was installed at Cragside, apparently the gardeners there are really missing it. It's at Wray Castle until May 20th so pop along if you can.

My musical link this time isn't one of my all time favourites but it ticked too many boxes to pass up, especially in the week following the somewhat momentous result in the general election 'North of the Border'.

See you next time

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener