This was considered to be a very unusual Victorian garden by garden historian Miles Hadfield, who wrote a history of British Gardening from Tudor gardens on in 1969. Hadfield was considered to be an expert on the design and wrote books on the English Landscape Garden, Topiary and others, all related to this topic.
Much of the design, especially the architectural features were that of Edward Cooke who was originally an established painter and only later a garden designer. Cooke was a good friend of Landseer the painter and spent time at his country estate gaining ideas from this that he carried over into his designs. Cooke also had a passion for orchids and stumperies and ferneries, both of the latter being built by him in his own garden in London. These conceits also inspired him to build a Stumpery and Fernery at Biddulph Grange. He visited Biddulph Grange some 15 times over 17 years, often exchanging letters with further ideas for the gardens with the oners, the Batemans, and also meeting them in London from time to time.
Biddulph Grange was considered interesting enough in Victorian times to have an article in the Gardener’s chronicle written about it in 1856.
The garden was very deceptive in size if you took in some of the outside paths. There is a woodland walk which was created in 2011 meaning that at the time we visited, in this cold 2013 Spring the walk was lined with daffodils. It was really lovely to walk up the hill through this rather than the more direct route and for kids there were several mazes and items for climbing etc. the only query I had, was what would be growing in this walk later in the year? However, a walk through woods is always pleasant so…
The woodland walk led you up to the grand Wellingtonian trees at the top of the garden. It is very likely that these trees were purchased in 1853 when the very first seedlings of Wellingtonians were offered for sale by a nurseryman. They were priced at 2 guineas each or one guinea if you bought at least 12. So good discounts for bulk buying were available even then!
There was much earth moving in the pinetum, another long avenue which was lined with many different types of pine trees, when it was being constructed. As these pine trees, were, like the Wellingtonians, new introductions to England, it was important to look after them and also to ensure that visitors could see them well. Thus each tree is seated on a mound – and they are all different shapes and sizes to improve the design. The mound enables not only the tree to be seen clearly but also ensured that the roots were not too wet .
Visitors were encouraged even from the early years of this garden’s development. In 1862 admission was free from 1-6pm on the first Monday of the month in June, July, August and September. These months would have enabled the visitor to see the rhododendrons in flower of which many still exist. In addition, every Friday of the year – except for Good Friday – you could visit for the small charge of 1 shilling, and children bringing adults along, were free..
Now Biddulph Grange is a garden of steps and as such very difficult for people in wheelchairs who basically were carried to a viewpoint and left there.. for me it was challenging, especially as some steps had their exits closed off and having climbed up them, we then had to climb back down! It is built on a hillside and is very steep…
This was the first time I had seen pink mysotis used so extensively to edge beds, fill pots, and generally to punctuate the flowers. There were many small daffodils/narcissi to be precise and the tulips and the rhododendrons were just coming out.
Two plants that were of particular interest to me due to the fact that I have a small collection of each, were the acer saccharinum (silver maple) and the pulmonaria augustifolia which was a lovely shade of blue. I also liked the wood anemones which were pink and violet rather than the standard white – and they seemed to have managed to get them to spread – there was also a very large spread of the yellow deadnettle I’ve mentioned before.
Due to the clever use of trees and rockwork features they organised the garden into different micro-climates for the specific plants they planted and they have a lovely collection of rhododendrons in the glens. And a Daffodil Maze in the centre lawn which the small kids loved.
As with Trentham, they have a typical Stumpery, but here it was much better developed being original to the Victorian era.
The garden is now owned by the National Trust who have organised a lovely café high up with a view across the garden and the surrounding fields. Good cake as you might expect but very busy! As a result we decided to look into the Biddulph Arms pub for a meal. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/biddulph-grange-garden/ Note that the geological collection of James Bateman was not open due to building disrepair when we were there, so if this interest you, check first.
After the meal we went up to Mow Cop which is the high point in the area and which also has a small village/hamlet surrounding a folly castle which was built in 1754 as a ruin… Note Wikipedia says:
The name is first recorded as “Mowel” around 1270 AD, and is believed to be derived from either the Anglo-Saxon Mūga-hyll, meaning “heap-hill”, with copp = “head” added later, or the Common Celtic ancestor of Welsh moel (= hill), with Anglo-Saxon copp added later.