Inspiration tends to come when you least expect it; in the shower, out for a walk, stuck in a traffic jam... or, even whilst out in the garden. We've taken a look at the role gardens have played in the lives of some of our most beloved authors. Here are a few of our favourites that you can visit today:
Roald Dahl and Gipsy HouseIn the green and leafy county of Buckinghamshire, is the small town of Great Missenden, home to the late, great Roald Dahl. His home, Gipsy House, is still lived in by the Dahl family today and the garden continues to be as great a source of inspiration as it did in Roald’s time.
It’s not often that this garden is open to the public but on the 13th September, as part of the 4th annual Roald Dahl day, it will open its gates to children and adults alike. Inside you’ll find a garden as wildly original as the man himself, permeated with little touches of magic,There’s the greenhouse containing James’s giant peach and hidden away to the front of the house is an old oil-painted caravan which Dahl wrote about in Danny, The Champion of the World. There’s also a bird house, filled with giant green bottles, that fans of the BFG would recognise as dream catchers. There’s even an entire shed that has been completely swamped by a Russian vine, like a living thatched roof.
It’s a garden full of small wonders, from old pennies hidden in the cement of the path, to man hole covers decorated with playing cards. The maze which will delight children and adults alike. Look out for the stones inscribed with lines from some of his best books. As one of the stones say "The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places".
At the heart of the garden is Roald Dahl’s writing hut, inspired by Dylan Thomas’s own writing shed in Laugharne. It’s buried deep inside an orchard at the bottom of his garden with lime trees lining the walk. Only Dahl himself was allowed inside. It was a place where he could lose himself in his work, writing only in pencil, on yellow lined paper shipped in from the US. This white-painted shed still contains a wealth of items which Dahl loved to have around him while he wrote, including a huge ball made from foil sweet wrappers, a favourite wing-backed chair and artifacts such as his own hip bone. The little brick building has been left exactly how as it was when he died over 20 years ago, with pages from his notebooks still scattered over the floor.Open: 2pm – 5pm, September 13th 2015 (for one day only)
Admission: Free, with an optional donation to the Roald Dahl Foundation
Location: Whitefield Lane in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, easily reached by train from London Marylebone.
Beatrix Potter and Hill Top Farm
From one beloved children’s author, to another, Beatrix Potter has been inspiring and entertaining children and adults for over 100 years. She began a love affair with the Lake District when she holiday there as a young girl. After the success of her first few book, The Tale of Tom Kitten, she was able to buy the beautiful Hill Top farm in Cumbria.
It was in this little 17th Century stone house and wild garden, that she wrote many of her famous children’s stories, such as Tom Kitten, Samuel Whiskers and Jemima Puddleduck. The house and garden also feature in many of the books and illustrations. You can see the rhubarb patch when Jemima laid her egg and where Tom Kitten and his sisters used to play.
Today the garden remains largely unchanged from the illustrations. Old-fashioned flowers such as honeysuckle, foxgloves, lupins, sweet cicely and lavender grow here. Rabbits run free along the path, roses grow in an arch over the door, and the fruit patches still produce bountiful strawberries, raspberries and, of course, rhubarb. And the house itself, well it’s exactly as Beatrix left it, down to the furniture and china cups.Open: Daily, 10:30 – 17:00 (Be aware, the house is closed on Fridays for maintenance)Admission: £9.50 adult, £4.75 child
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Agatha Christie and Greenway
Gardens don’t just produce magical adventures; they can also be the inspiration for murder. Agatha Christie, the famous murder mystery writer, used to spend her summers at Greenway house in Devon. This grand, atmospheric house comes with a large mysterious garden, surrounded by woodland which spreads out over the hillside, down to the Dart estuary. Follow one of the many winding paths that were so confusing for Piorot and you might stumble upon the boathouse, the scene of a brutal murder in ‘Dead Man’s Folly’.
Greenway and its spectacular gardens actually appear in two other books: ‘Ordeal By Innocence’, and ‘Five Little Pigs’. However, visitors to the house and gardens today are more likely to find spectacular flower displays, than a terrible crime scene. The bricks of the walled gardens, home to restored peach houses and vineries, are barely viable through a mass of flowers, including the stunning blue Wisteria sinensis. Camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias add even more colour to the garden.
At the top of the garden, you’ll find the Battery, complete with cannon, left over from the Napoleonic defence in the 1790s. It offers great views over the river and sometimes you can see seals. Whether you’re a fan or not, there’s something at Greenway to please everyone.Open: Daily, 10:30 – 17:00 (until November)
Admission: £9.95 adult, £4.45 child
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J.M. Barrie and Kensington Palace Gardens
Fairies have long been a part of Kensington folklore, even as far back as 1722, when Thomas Tickell's poem “Kensington Gardens” described the park's fairy inhabitants. Yet, no one has done more to keep the park's magical reputation alive, then J.M. Barrie and his timeless creation, Peter Pan.
In the early 1900s, Barrie was living opposite Kensington Palace Gardens. He'd regularly take his dog for a walk in them. One day, he had the fortune to meet the Llewelyn Davies family and eventually became firm friends with George, Jack and Peter, Michael and Nico.
It wasn't long after, that we first meet the character Peter Pan is in “The Little White Bird”, or “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”. In this novel, Peter flies out of his nursery window and into the gardens, landing next to the Long Water Lake. It's lock-out time when the park gates close to the public and the fairies and other magical inhabitants to come out. He uses a thrush's nest to travel along the Serpentine and explore the gardens.
Nowadays, along a quiet pathway shrouded in trees, there is a statue dedicated to Peter Pan. Built in 1912, the bronze statue features squirrels, rabbits, mice and fairies scampering up to Peter, who is stood at the top of the tree stump blowing his pipe. It stands in the exact same spot by the lake where Peter lands after he first flies out of his nursery. Sadly, we aren’t allowed to stay past closing time, but daytime in Kensington Palace Gardens is pretty magical too.Open: Every day, 06:00 – dusk
Nearest tube: Lancaster Gate, Bayswater and High street Kensington
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Feature image: Yew Tree Farm
Image 1: The Galloping Gardener
Image 2: Wikipedia
Image 3: Stoke Lodge Hotel