Take a small cluster of quaint villages, a few drops of English weather and a sprinkling of tragic deaths, and what are you left with? The glorious, green landscape of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.
A fictional region in the west of England, Wessex was created by Victorian novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, and is the setting for many of his works such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure. For much of his life Hardy lived in a cottage at Higher Bockhampton in the Dorchester countryside, where he relished the separation from the poverty, class systems and social turmoil of the densely populated cities of Britain. When he died, his ashes were taken to Westminster Abbey to be placed in ‘Poet’s Corner’, but his heart remained in the west country, buried in the same grave as his first wife.
Red roses, lilacs, variegated box
Are there in plenty, and such hardy flowers
As flourish best untrained. Adjoining these
Are herbs and esculents; and farther still
A field; then cottages with trees, and last
The distant hills and sky.
A keen gardener, Hardy grew herbs, fruit and vegetables in his cottage garden and orchard at Higher Bockhampton. Runner beans, broad beans, potatoes and onions were among those grown in the vegetable patch, and the orchard boasted a range of vivacious mulberry, medlar, apple and pear trees. The house was surrounded by heath and woodland, meaning the garden was home to a lively community of rabbits, butterflies, moths, glow worms and slow worms. There is even an old tale that tells how Hardy, a child fond of wildlife, was once found asleep in the sun with an adder basking happily on his chest.
Hardy’s cottage garden is also a place of great horticultural mystery, concerning the dubious existence of a lost apple tree. According to Ruth Whitty from the Real West Dorset blog, the Bockhampton Scarlet is an old cider apple tree recorded in one of Hardy’s novels, and in a letter written by his grandmother listing the vegetables growing in their garden. It was also recorded in the RHS Journal No. 25 in 1900, yet nothing has been heard from this sneaky apple since. If it can be found, the apple may be used to make a delicious Dorset cider, similar to that which would have been enjoyed in Hardy’s own household!
While the hunt for Hardy’s lost apple tree continues, why not enjoy the rich harvest of British apples that autumn provides? As the days begin to cool, I will be making a rich apple cake to enjoy with a warm pot of tea on crisp, cold afternoons.
Photo source: Phillip Capper