While on a climbing holiday in the Lake District with friends, I had an opportunity to pop into Dove Cottage in Grasmere to check out the small historic kitchen garden that once belonged to the romantic poet William Wordsworth.
It is incredible to think that one of the greatest wordsmiths of the English language would have sat in this garden and taken his inspiration to write some of his best work. In 1802 he wrote one of the most beautiful, subtle and gentle poems ever written ‘To a butterfly”
I'VE watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly! indeed I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless!--not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,...
I only saw one butterfly in the garden…err a cabbage white. But I guess butterflies are like individual moments in life. Fleeting, transitory and delicate. Wordsworth would have used this garden in times of sadness as a sanctuary to recuperate, philosophise and perhaps try and fix broken wings. Over the next couple of years two of his children died, his brother was drowned at sea and his sister Dorothy suffered a mental breakdown.
It would appear that it was Dorothy (a poet and writer in her own right) who was the keen gardener and kept records of the planting. She records planting wild thyme by moonlight and using creeping thyme rosemary and various mints. The Wordsworth family brewed mint tea from peppermint and spearmint, and used the plants for toothpaste. The garden also had culinary and medicinal herbs and fruit including apple and pear trees, strawberries, gooseberries and rhubarb. As you would expect from creative geniuses the garden is imaginatively planted, blurring the edges between ornamental and functional kitchen gardening. Honey suckles and runner beans entwine together in the apple trees, wild strawberries create edible ground cover and lilies and foxgloves brighten up the orchard.