Archive | May, 2012

Fun for me – and all the family at half-term

31 May
Costumed servant Alicia in the kitchen of Wordsworth House

Knowledge: My friend Alicia in the kitchen

I’m really looking forward to seeing our visiting families getting involved with all the half-term holiday activities at Wordsworth House and Garden.

On the Saturdays at both ends of the week, there are special talks and tastings at 11.30am and 2.30pm.

On the Sundays, you can find out about the weird ways the Georgians spent their leisure time, with talks at 11.30am and 2.30pm, and the chance to play a game of skittles or cards 18th-century-style.

The days I’m most excited about are Monday and Tuesday, June 4 and 5. As well as talks about the trials and tribulations of Georgian royalty at 11.30am, on Monday we have “budding gardeners” from 11.30am to 1.30pm, when all ages can decorate a plant pot made from recycled materials and sow a seed to take home and grow.

On Tuesday at 12pm and 2.30pm, my costumed colleague Alicia will share the knowledge she’s picked from my straw brain about the bizarre ways Georgians used herbs and foraged plants.

On Wednesday, from 11am until 3pm, head for the kitchen, roll up your sleeves and learn to make clapbread.

Finally on Thursday, you can dress up rather more splendidly than me. From 11am to 3pm, visitors can try on replica 18th-century costume and pose for a family photo. Why not come into the garden in your splendour and take one with me?

On Friday, we’ll all be having a well-earned rest!


Take a walk on the wild side – or get into the drawing room

29 May
The outdoor drawing room on Friar's Crag

Jubilee: Celebrate at Friar’s Crag this weekend

I don’t get into the great outdoors as much as I’d like, so I always enjoy it when gardener Amanda comes to chat about the walks she takes with her dogs, Dandy and Birdy – you’ve guessed it, Dandelion and Burdock.

The three of them have been having a lovely time in the good weather exploring the Solway Mosses, listening to curlews rippling overhead, the melody of skylarks and the mellow call of the cuckoo, while watching swallows swirling across the sky and bronze dragonflies and blue and red damson flies zipping over the bog.

For those who like a bit more culture while they’re out and about, I highly recommend the “outdoor drawing room” events over the Jubilee weekend to mark the centenary of National Trust founder and social reformer Octavia Hill.

My lovely colleague Jessie has brought the indoors outside and created an actual drawing room at Friar’s Crag, on Derwentwater. Turn up from Friday, June 3 to Wednesday, June 6, to have a picnic, hunt for mini-beasts, try your hand at craft activities or meet some fabulous artists.

For more details and to book your place on one of the free events, call 017687 74649 or visit

We’re gorgeous Georgians

19 May
My friend Sophia, aka "the maid-of-all-work"

My friend Sophia, aka “the maid-of-all-work”

… though I say it myself. I thought I had clothing issues (see May 3) until my splendidly dressed friend Sophia told me how long it takes her to get into her outfit each morning. As one of Wordsworth House’s costumed servants, she wears a full set of laced stays and a dress with more hooks and eyes and ribbon ties than a scarecrow could hope to count.

The servants pop by to say “hi” every day when they’re out collecting herbs and other produce to use in our working Georgian kitchen. They chat to visitors while they cook – and are always thrilled when anyone offers to lend a hand, as it cuts down on their duties!

The finished dishes make a wonderful display in the dining room. I’d love to get in to see for myself and experience the hustle and bustle of the house, but my duties in the garden are non stop.

A bluebell by any other name

15 May
Bluebells in Wordsworth House garden

Bluebells in Wordsworth House garden

In many parts of the UK, this year’s bluebells have already come and gone, but in our little corner of Cumbria they’re still in full bloom. What many people don’t realise is that there is more than one kind of bluebell. The Spanish variety, although beautiful, is the grey squirrel of bluebells. If allowed, it will try to displace its English cousin – the red of the bluebell world.

This is one reason why gardener Amanda, and other horticulturalists, like to use Latin plant names – they allow clear differentiation between types. She tells me that the English species is Hyacinthoides non-scripta and the Spanish is Hyacinthoides hispanica. Meanwhile in Scotland, they call their bluebell – also known as a harebell – Campanula rotundifolia.

Just to add to the confusion, in America, the Virginia bluebell is Mertenisia virginica, while the Australians call two flowers bluebells – Wahlenbergia stricta and varieties of Sollya. And thus ends today’s Latin lesson.

My brain would hurt if it wasn’t full of straw!

Lots of watering cans followed by a box of fudge

9 May

Some of the lovely plants on sale at Wordsworth House shop

April was a dreich month and the showers stayed away. So far May’s been brighter but still not a great deal of rain, so the team have been busy with their watering cans, tending our shop’s wonderful array of plants.

To say thank you, Bruce, the retail supervisor, brought Amanda some fudge – she almost bit his hand off. She says gardening is hungry work! I can vouch for that – I’ve just seen her raking a trailer load of gravel kindly supplied by countryside rangers Paulownia and Dandelion. (Amanda’s terrible with human names so she often calls people after plants – you can probably guess what they’re really called.)

The team have also been busy potting on, and our Georgian-style cold frames are now full to bursting. All we need is some warm weather to plant everything out.

Thieving birds and a visiting armadillo

3 May

A jackdaw helps itself to some of Amanda’s string

We’ve had a mixed week of animal antics in the garden. It started with gardener Amanda arriving to find a blackbird fledgling sitting in the café’s milk crate by the back gate. She quickly discovered that National Trust fleeces are not just good for keeping you warm on a chilly morning; they’re also great for wrapping small birds that need to be moved to safety before the café staff claim their milk delivery. She reunited mother and baby in one of our Viburnum tinus shrubs.

The next bird incident is less heart-warming. A pair of cheeky jackdaws looking for nest material have been pinching tufts of my stuffing – Bubble and Squeak, my crocheted rodent companions, are outraged. Amanda swung into action with her camera when she realised the jackdaws were also helping themselves to the hemp string tying her ash poles together.

Things brightened up when I made a new friend – a lovely couple from Wales brought their travelling companion, Angus, the cuddly armadillo, to meet me. I wish I’d asked Amanda to take a picture of us together. If you’re coming to visit me, why not bring your cuddly friends, take a snap of us and send me a copy, care of Wordsworth House at

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