Staffordshire 2 - A day in the garden - Biddulph Grange

Published: June 10th 2013
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Suzy is sitting comfortably on our drive, We picked up a new table for her today . The one that we have that came with her is rather unwieldy and takes up a lot of room in the cupboards. This makes it hard to get the table in and out and use it. The new one we purchased is much smaller and compact and fits in to a suitcase size box. Albeit a large box but at least it fits where we want it to go and we should be able to get more use out of it.

After picking up the table we headed off to the Stoke on Trent area to visit Biddulph Gardens. The description states that behind a gloomy Victorian shrubbery there lies a gloomy Victorian mansion and this is definately true. The house itself is big and imposing but distinctly ugly. But it says that behind the house lies the most extraordinary gardens in Britain. So today was going to be the day to find out if indeed this was true. I had been before in the 1980's but no doubt the garden had changed and evolved over time. We wanted to compare it to other gardens we have been to. .

Biddulph Grange was developed by James Bateman (1811–1897), the accomplished horticulturist and landowner; he inherited money from his father, who had become rich from coal and steel businesses in the area. He moved to Biddulph Grange around 1840 and created the gardens with the aid of his friend and painter of seascapes Edward William Cooke. The original plan for the garden was to display specimens from Bateman's extensive and wide-ranging collection of plants.

His gardens are a rare survival of the period between the gardens designed by Capability Brown and the high Victorian style and are really unique.

In 1861 Bateman and his sons, who had used up their savings, gave up the house and gardens, and Bateman moved to London. Robert Heath bought Biddulph Grange in 1871. After the house burnt down in 1896 it was rebuilt and later in its life it became a childrens hospital.

In 1988 the National Trust took ownership of the property and its gardens, which have now been nearly fully restored.

Our journey took us down the M6 which was heaving for a Monday. Upon arriving we found the parking on site to be reasonably easy to access. It was a good sized car park . The garden opens at 11.00 and to sure of parking Suzy I would guess you would need to be there at that time as it filled up quite quickly. I always imagine everyone will be in work on a Monday and the place will be empty and that we would have it to ourselves. But the reality was that it was full .

Our first stop was the tea room. It's a plain room but was relatively empty when we ordered a bacon butty and a ploughmans and a pot of tea . By the time they arrived the room was filling up and the predominant language being used was Dutch. A bus tour had turned up and all the visitors filed into the tea room for lunch. Suddenly it became noisy. The cost of lunch £13.50. I fancied the Staffordshire Oat cakes but they came with cheese rather than the bacon I love.

There is the usual shop on site with the National Trust gifts but we avoided it and went straight into the garden. From the steps we could see a sea of rhodedendrums and azaleas in all colours in front of us. They looked spectacular. To our left the dahlia walk which sadly would not be full of flowers until later in the season. Another reason to visit Biddulph more than once.

We walked through the trees to the lake which opened up around a corner. Borders on each side were filled with the most stunning of blue Salvias. You could buy these in the shop along with tulip bulbs and lettuce plants. The lake was full of water lilies sadly not flowering at the moment Gold fish swam in the water between the water lilies . Trees around the lake were mainly pines and monkey puzzle trees. The area was a photographers dream as our camera clicked photo after photo. A single moorhen with her baby swam through the water and onto the island in the middle. The house formed a formidable grey backdrop only softened by the rhodedendrums. It is definately not an attractive pile.

We walked from the lake down to the woodland walk where the remains of the daffodils and tulips could still be seen. Bluebells were just going over in the wooded areas.

From the woodland walk we passed into the Egyptian park of the garden where two stone sphinxes guard the entrance to a dark and gloomy tunnel. The Statue of the Ape of Troth hides in one corner barely lit up.

The highlight for us was the Great Wall of China which had to be rebuilt due to subsistence and was only finished during the winter of 2010 - 2011. A beautiful pastiche of a japanese/Chinese garden. Water everywhere bridged by a tiny red and green bridge . Dragons cut into the soil and filled with red stones. A peaceful place , a golden bull in corner and the promise of Japanese Anemone later in the season.

The stumpery was made out of old oak stumps and looked quite impressive and unusual lined with all manner of ferns. It is hard to describe the garden but it is rather beautiful. It is smaller than other gardens we have seen but plants are packed in and there is a surprise around every corner.

In fact we preferred it to Bodnant which we visited last year. A lovely day out on a lovely sunny summer June day. .

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