Ruskin's Gardens

This is a great time of year to visit gardens of all types. They are at their peak with plump fruit and colourful flowers but you can also start to see signs that summer is nearing its end. With this in mind, on a fine afternoon at the start of the bank holiday weekend, we visited Ruskin's gardens at Brantwood, his house overlooking Coniston Water.

The gardens are large and on this occasion we only explored part of them. We started with the Zig-Zaggy Garden which follows a fairly steep path up the hill, punctuated by small terraces. Ruskin's design of this part of the garden was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy - the zig-zag path represents the soul's journey through Purgatory and its ascent to Paradise, with each terrace representing one of the seven deadly sins.

We followed the path through the Painters Glade and paused to enjoy the fine views across the lake. Then we descended through the Professor's Garden, where Ruskin spent much of his time growing unusual ornamental and edible plants. From here we dropped down to the house.

We were especially struck by the wide range of ferns throughout the garden. Ruskin lived at Brantwood at the height of the Victorian craze for ferns - pteridomania - and a previous resident at Brantwood was W J Linton who went on to publish the definitive reference and best-seller, The Ferns of the English Lake Country in 1865. So it is little wonder that ferns are important in the gardens and there is even a dedicated Fern Garden which we will visit another day.

After a quick look around the interior of the house we strolled through the Lower Gardens to the jetty and the calm waters of the lake.