The first time I visited the Chelsea Flower Show was in 2005, when my favourite garden was designed by the former pop singer Kim Wilde on a Lakeland theme. I thought about this when we visited the Lake District in May and I was blown away by the lushness of the vegetation.
I grew up in Manchester and so visited the Lakes many times as a child. I have memories of great freedom, roaming around the grounds of a ramblers’ hostel in the shadow of Old Man Coniston, waking to the bleating of sheep, swimming – and getting sunburnt – in the river at Eskdale and walking in the rain, picnicking on crab paste sandwiches and slices of swiss roll. When I met my husband, we walked together in the Lakes and found a shared passion for the fells. The tables at our wedding were even named after some of the great Lakeland writer and walker Alfred Wainwright’s favourite fells.
Viewing the same scenery through the eyes of an adult and a gardener, I appreciate the rich ericaceous soil that allows ferns to grow in valleys dense with vegetation, alongside rhododendrons brought to these parts by Victorian plant hunters. Even on the tops of the fells, the wind blows through clumps of alpines and cotton wool patches of thrift. Everywhere there are the romantic dry stone walls that Wilde made a feature of her garden.
I am currently reading The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall, about a Cumbrian peer who decides to release a breeding pair of wolves on his vast country estate, in the face of protest by locals. Hall’s Thomas Pennington is a work of fiction, but we visited Muncaster Castle, an ancient, turreted sandstone stately home, reminiscent of the fictional Pennington Hall. The estate manager is one Peter Frost Pennington, the husband of the heiress Iona Frost Pennington, whose father was a well-known poet and peer who went by the name of Patrick of the Hills. The Frost Penningtons have set up an amazing bird-of-prey sanctuary. Entrance to the castle and grounds includes free displays where you can get up close and personal with owls, vultures and more.
The grounds themselves are filled with the aforementioned rhododendrons, giving the feel of a Himalayan glade. The owners have enhanced the grounds for younger visitors with a magical trail of fairy doors, wooden stepping stones and play castles, surrounded by magnolias and brightly coloured wild flowers. There is also an indoor interactive maze built with lottery funding. The Little Weeds had a marvellous time, meeting the owls and exploring the playground and gardens.
On a much smaller scale, but equally inspiring, is Beatrix Potter’s home at Hill Top in the village of Near Sawrey. In May this was blooming with flowers and the vegetable garden looked like a veritable treat for Peter Rabbit. It was easy to see how this lovely spot captured the writer and artist’s imagination.
I took these photos using my Lumix Panasonic camera with Leica lens and it has taken me until now to upload them to my computer, but it is lovely to revisit a warm, sunny May half term in the Lakes in the middle of November.