CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Lancashire Life today CLICK HERE

Meet the man who restored Beatrix Potter’s garden at Hill Top

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 August 2018

Beatrix  bought Hill Top with the proceeds of her first book (Picture: National Trust)

Beatrix bought Hill Top with the proceeds of her first book (Picture: National Trust)

National Trust

Pete Tasker has celebrated 30 years with the National Trust.

Pete Tasker has been working in Beatrix Potter's garden for 30 years (Picture: National Trust)Pete Tasker has been working in Beatrix Potter's garden for 30 years (Picture: National Trust)

Like a latter day Mr McGregor, Pete Tasker spent many years trying to turn back the tide of rabbits munching their way through Beatrix Potter’s lovely Hill Top garden in the old Lancashire village of Near Sawrey.

‘We’ve had tremendous numbers of rabbits in the past,’ he says ‘and they would always find their way into the vegetable patch, which caused me to tear my hair out on more than one occasion! The visitors all thought we’d put them there on purpose.’

Pete, who is celebrating 30 years as senior gardener for the National Trust at Hill Top, now has some respite as rabbit numbers have declined, allowing him more time to concentrate on restoring what is one of Britain’s most famous gardens.

He grew up in the industrial North East and the highlight of every summer was a two week family holiday to Seascale. ‘My dad would rent a house and we’d alternate between beach days and walking on the fells. Those were great times. I loved the Lakes.’

Looking up the garden path at Hill Top (Picture: National Trust)Looking up the garden path at Hill Top (Picture: National Trust)

When his sister was appointed head gardener at Brockhole near Windermere he quit his job at Kew to start a garden design business nearby. It didn’t quite work that way. While serving his notice a job came up with the National Trust – in the heart of the Lake District and complete with a house – and his life took a different direction. ‘When I started at Hill Top there were more plants in the garden that shouldn’t have been there, and my aim from the start was to try to mirror Beatrix’s planting choice and style,’ he says.

‘There wasn’t much of Beatrix’s original planting left, although we think the apple tree in the orchard and the wisteria over the garden shed are two of her contributions which remain. One bonus of being here for so long is piecing together the various clues Beatrix left behind, alongside building up my own record of what’s here today.’

The trust has a fantastic collection of Beatrix’s letters, photos and diary entries, providing much information about the types of plants she grew and where she put them. The illustrations in some of her tales have left clues too, as she used the garden in her sketches for The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.

‘I try to garden as organically as possible so I don’t use any artificial fertilisers or pesticides, and only weed killer sparingly,’ he says. ‘I use manure and straw from the farm next door for our strawberries, and collect twigs and branches to use as sweet pea wigwams from the local woods, just as Beatrix would have done 100 years ago. This means we have lots of bugs, birds and bees, which I positively encourage.

The famous vegetable patch (Picture: National Trust)The famous vegetable patch (Picture: National Trust)

‘It’s always in the back of my mind, how Beatrix would have approached a certain problem such as the troublesome Enchanter’s nightshade, of which Beatrix said “it isn’t a nightshade and it isn’t at all enchanting, but apart from that I suppose it’s quite a good name.” It’s interesting to think that this particular weed has been growing at Hill Top since Beatrix’s time. How I wish she’d managed to get rid of it when she was here!

‘Growing produce organically means we get more pests like slugs and snails, which love our damp climate, and have to be either picked off by hand or given a treatment with a natural nematode predator or eco-friendly slug pellets. All but the most persistent weeds are pulled up by hand or dug out with a hoe.’

Other challenges come on two legs. ‘The sheer number of people coming through the garden can be difficult,’ says Pete. ‘Some days we can get 1,000 visitors through what must be one of the smallest gardens in the National Trust’s care. When I started in 1988 there were around 60,000 visitors a year, and now it’s closer to 160,000.

‘There tends to be a surge in visitors after a popular film or TV adaptation, and we hope to see lots this year as a result of the new Peter Rabbit film.’

The borders in summer (Picture: National Trust)The borders in summer (Picture: National Trust)

Despite the high volume of visitors, Pete enjoys meeting people. ‘It’s very different from other National Trust gardens, but Beatrix lived here and designed it herself, and, just like the house, it’s easy to imagine her here, tending to the various fruits, flowers and vegetables.

‘Beatrix would use what she grew to supplement her kitchen; strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, cabbages, onions, rhubarb, artichokes, lettuce, potatoes – it was a proper farm garden.

‘She’d make her own jams, pies and cakes from each harvest. I love the authenticity of it, being able to pick and eat the fruit, showing visitors what’s here and why it’s still important today.’

Beatrix is believe to have planted wisteria at Hill Top (Picture: National Trust)Beatrix is believe to have planted wisteria at Hill Top (Picture: National Trust)

Top for visitors

Hill Top really brings to life the wonderful world of Beatrix Potter and, as well as the garden, the house is pretty much as she left it. The lovely cottage garden is described as a ‘haphazard mix of flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables’. Beatrix bought it in 1905 with proceeds from her first book, the Tale of Peter Rabbit, and she used Hill Top and the surrounding countryside as inspiration for many subsequent books.

Top Hill is at Near Sawrey, Hawkshead, LA22 0LF. To find out more go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top

More from Out & About

In 1972, a hoard of ancient silver coins was discovered in Prestwich. These days, they’re hoping to strike gold with an unbeatable mix of community, creativity and independent shops but for one craftsperson, silver is still the way to go.

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

Pendle Hill is one of the most iconic landmarks in Lancashire and you can enjoy the beautiful countryside, spectacular views and fascinating from a number of starting points in the Ribble Valley.

Read more
Pendle Hill Ribble Valley Walks
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Our walks expert John Lenehan plots a scenic course that also provides a little Lancashire history.

Read more

Steps are being taken to bridge the divides that have grown between communities and made Blackburn one of the most segregated towns in the country.

Read more
Blackburn
Monday, October 8, 2018

With the countryside turning stunning shades of red and gold, this is probably the best time to pull on your boots and go for a heavenly hike.

Read more
Lake District Walks Autumn

There is always something surprising in this old Lancashire village which attracts visitors from across the world

Read more
Cartmel
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Many youngsters their age are content to play with their toys, but a Bowness brother and sister are happiest in their walking boots.

Read more
Thursday, September 27, 2018

Britain’s biggest independent flower show attracts huge crowds and the admiration of BBC celebrities

Read more
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

When it was announced The Willow Garden Project in Fleetwood was to be the recipient of BBC North West Garden created for The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Tatton Flower Show, there were cheers all round.

Read more
Friday, September 21, 2018

The first ever National GetOutside Day takes place on Sunday 30 September with the aim of getting 1 million people active outdoors across the UK.

Read more

Meet some of the devilishly successful people who make this glorious Ribble Valley town tick.

Read more
Clitheroe
Friday, September 14, 2018

The site was designated Lancashire’s first ever ‘Local Nature Reserve’ in 1968 and is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Read more
Lytham
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A striking sculpture attracts John Lenehan to this circular walk through some oustanding scenery.

Read more
Friday, September 7, 2018

This varied selection of walks are all within ten miles of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Natural Beauty.

Read more
Arnside Silverdale

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Property Search