On a damp, grey day in early April it’s not every garden that tempts visitors to linger. But when I visited the walled garden at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumbria at the beginning of the month there was much to see of interest, as well as providing some welcome shelter from cold winds.
Although early in the season, signs of spring were evident. Daffodils were flowering, with tulips not far behind them; new shoots visible on the roses and perennial plants were starting to emerge from their long winter dormancy.
Wordsworth House is the birthplace of William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850), who lived here with his family in the 1770s. The National Trust, which acquired the house in the 1930s, has designed the garden in late eighteenth century style, with plant varieties that would have been available in the period. Attractive slate labels show the names of these plants, information about their uses and introduction to cultivation in the UK. The apples Greenup’s Pippin (1790) and Acklam Russet (1768) are cultivated with the the dual purpose pear Williams Bon Chretien (1770), Morello Cherry (pre 1629) and the Gargarin Blue Grape. The garden also has a collection of Orpington and Silkie hens.
Beans and peas and other household vegetables are grown in open beds at the centre of the garden and the traditional supports for these made out of local materials such as birch are already in place for the coming season. Supports for flowers like peonies are also constructed using poles and string.
The garden backs onto the river Derwent, which looks tame enough today, but in 2009 William Wordsworth’s ‘beauteous stream’ burst its banks. Both the house and gardens were damaged by flooding (as were other buildings in the town) with many garden plants swept away by the waters, and even the heavy wooden gates at the front of the building (now replaced) were wrenched from their hinges. The force of the water must have been immense.
Today the re-planted garden with its fruit trees, roses, flowers and herbs looks well established, which is a tribute to the efforts of head gardener Amanda Thackeray and the National Trust’s team of volunteers. It’s also a good reminder that it is possible to create a garden with a sense of permanence in a relatively short period of time.
Back home, whilst considering the old fruit varieties I was delighted to come across a catalogue of fruit trees from the relatively local grower William Pinkerton, based in Wigan, and dating from 1782. Despite its fragile looking state it’s available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library via the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Library. The comprehensive list includes a surprising number of peaches, nectarines and apricots as well as apples, pears, plums and cherries. Although not individually named, Pinkerton offers a staggering 74 varieties of gooseberry. It would be fascinating to know how many of these varieties are traceable today – the Green Gage and La Mirabelle plums certainly sound familiar. The catalogue is reproduced below.
William Pinkerton’s Fruit Catalogue 1782
Bernwode Plants masses of information about heritage fruit trees
The architecture is as compelling as the garden. It is odd that there are windows right where one would expect load bearing walls on the interior (below the valleys of the roof). The asymmetry of the house is perplexing.