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william wordsworth (1770-1850)...

In the eighteenth century, the art of landscape - poetry, gardening, and landscape painting - were related. Wordsworth took the natural world as he found it without wanting to improve it.  He sought in his poetry to portray nature in terms of his own experience of the sublime and the beautiful. In the garden he worked with natures realities rather than trying to make the gardens resemble landscape paintings, and, as in poetry Wordsworth, rose above the traditions he inherited. His gardens share in the beauty that drove his poetry.

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth

The house was built in 1745 and John Wordsworth, father of William and 4 siblings, moved in 1766.  A townhouse garden it is the only northern Georgian town garden in existence. Despite the house being on the main street it is an oasis of peace and tranquillity protected by high stone walls. At the far end a terrace looks down to the River Derwent and is much as it must have been when the Wordsworth children played here. The privet and the hawthorn provide shelter for the birds. Snowdrops and bluebells have been replanted and there are hellebores, geraniums, foxgloves, yellow poppies and roses.

The principal garden is behind the house. In the centre a series of potagers, divided by grass paths, grow the vegetables which a Georgian household would have use. All the plants would have been available in Wordsworths' time - early horn carrots, black (winter) radishes, peas supported by hazel twigs (William's sister, Dorothy, was later to write in her Grasmere Journal of sticking peas) and there are ash poles supporting the scarlet runner beans - another of Dorothy's later favourites. Many of the plants are not seen in today's vegetable gardens - Hamburg parsley of which you eat the root, chicory and cardoons, a type of artichoke with decorative, thistle like edible leaves.

There are herbs and flowers in the potagers - a mixture of companion plants such as carrots and cornflowers. Herbs appear all over the garden - green and purple fennel, angelica, chives and clary sage. Under the apple trees is chamomile and the borders are edged with lavender and hyssop.

Honeysuckle covers most of the back wall and below it are French lavender, peonies and Solomon's seal, plus the ubiquitous heartsease (viola) - in summer the tricolour, in spring the pure white, richly scented odorata.

Espalier apple and pear trees grow against the side wall and under them geraniums, fennel and heartsease flourish. Every space is made to count.

Dove Cottage Garden, Grasmere

Both William and his sister Dorothy contributed to the character of their garden. It was an expression of both their personal aesthetics and their practical need.

The Wordsworths took pleasure in the sheer labour of making something grow as much as in the gardens beauty and the culinary results. Their garden kept them well supplied with vegetables, for they planted peas, three kinds of beans (scarlet runner, French and kidney beans), radishes, turnips, broccoli and among other vegetables, bistort, a flower eaten like spinach.

William Wordsworth liked the warm soil at his fingertips and the smooth sliding of a shovel into the earth.

The Wordsdworths had two main sources of plants for their garden: the fells around them, and their friends and neighbours. From these sources they acquired a great variety not only of flowering bulbs and perennials but also of ferns, mosses, and lichens. Among the flowering plants they gathered were daffodils, daisies, primroses, lesser celandines, marsh marigolds, wild pansies, globeflowers, foxgloves, columbines, stichwort, geum and Herb Robert. They also collected orchids -the early purple orchid and the spotted orchid.

Plants traded with neighbours included white and yellow lilies (probably Madonna lilies) and periwinkles (Vinca minor) from Jenny Dockray (28 May 1800), from his brother in law Tom Hutchinson, Wordsworth brought two shrubs from Mr. Curwen's nursery (23rd October 1801).

Dove Cottage Garden Today

The garden has always been a mixture of planned plantings and the happy accidents all gardeners enjoy. Today Dove Cottage Garden is a semi-wild garden planted naturally in the spirit of Wordsworth with native and cottage garden plants. Honeysuckles entwine Rosa Rugosa and climb the cottage walls. Ferns and ivy grow among rocks and in the crevices of the terrace wall. Native English primrose (primula vulgaris) root in tree stumps; the old well is surrounded by Osmundine fern and Helleborus orientalis. Native daffodils, bluebells, mosses and other plants referred to by the Wordsworth family in letters and journals.

The Yew Trees (Taxus baccata) were probably planted in Wordsworth's time. The Rock of Names, at the right of the path behind the Museum, is carved with the initials of William, sister Dorothy and brother John, Mary and Sarah Hutchinson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Now a patchwork of fragments it was part of a rock at the south end of Thirlmere at a point that Coleridge and the Wordsworth family often met and was blasted by Manchester corporation when they made room for the reservoir. Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley one of the founders of the National Trust rescued the Rock of Names.

The Garden inspired some of the greatest poetry in the English language.


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