Biddulph Grange Gardens in Staffordshire are completely magical and quite unlike any other gardens in the country. I visited these gardens in August 2017, a full three years after seeing them featured on a garden programme on the BBC. Remembering them now as I write this fills me with all of the excitement and wonder I felt when I was there, ambling through the varied and extensive grounds which have been brought back to their former glory by The National Trust.
Originally designed during the 1840s at the start of the Victorian era by the respected horticulturalist James Bateman (1811-1897), the gardens became a passion project for him and his wife, Maria. As well as being an expert on botany, James was incredibly wealthy, having inherited vast wealth from his coal and steel magnate father. This combination of wealth and passion and a close friendship with the artist and owner of the best plant nursery of the day, Edward William Cooke, allowed for the creation of a plant-rich, exotic labyrinth of styles and themes.
Anyone who’s in the least bit interested in gardens has to visit Biddulph. Although not anywhere near as grand in scale as other National Trust sites, such as Fountain Abbey or Chatsworth, the gardens seem to extend well beyond their actual dimension, with various areas inspired by the Victorian adventurer’s spirit from all corners of the globe, none of which are visible from any of the others. If this conjures up images of claustrophobic ascetic boxes arranged in a grid, I’m happy to banish that misconception. The gardens use shape and line beautifully to lead the eye forwards, upwards and round naturally. All the areas feel organic and are perfectly proportioned. A prime example is the Chinese garden with its pagoda and carp pond nestled peacefully in a wooded grove, inspired by the shape of a willow tree. The entrance is a meditative cherry blossomed and walled reflective space with a gorgeous parterre on which a bank of coloured pebbles is arranged into a magnificent dragon. Above this rests a golden bull, recessed under a roofed temple-like structure, resting its forelegs on the balustrade as if surveying its kingdom. An ornate archway leads you through to the pond which is straddled by a vibrant bridge. Standing on the bridge there is the perfect view of the equally vibrant pagoda opposite and glimpses of jewel-like flashes beneath the surface of the water which betray the giant carp. Above the garden as if standing guard sits the Joss House, the perfect spot to rest and reflect on the beauty beneath.
The Egyptian area is a gem. The soft, sloping lines of the serene-faced sphinx flanking the natural doorway contrast beautifully with the mathematical sharpness of the pyramidal topiary and bordering hedges. Entering the garden from the main house, which is impressive in its own right, you stand on a columned terrace overlooking the most exquisite Italian garden, luscious in its use of walk-lined planting and voluptuous stonework, yet constrained by the formal lines. The eye is beckoned out by gradually larger trees and shrubs into a sea of green, the winding pathway teasing and inviting you into the unknown as it disappears out of view.
Another standout area for me is the Dahlia walk, designed in the classic jardin à la française style with formal hedges grown at a 45 degree angle and vibrant dahlia’s bursting from the side of the path which leads off from the Italian garden. These gardens are the closest to the house and were the frequently used relaxation spaces for the owners. Away from the main house, the large pond provides a secluded spot to sit and gaze at the ducks and carp. Going further into the gardens, a cavern-like tunnel leads to the stately Wellingtonia Avenue of Red Chestnuts and Austrian Pines. Other highlights include the stumpery, which is fully shaded, the fractal-like arrangement of dead stumps creating a gothic atmosphere. Amongst the stumps, a host of mushroom varieties can be seen thriving in the moist conditions.
Aside from all this, there is the idyllic Cheshire Cottage, Himalayan Grove with tumbling stream, various formal parterres and Cherry Orchard and the Pinetum. It’s very difficult to convey a true sense of the variety contained in this garden and the pleasure of discovering the seemingly endless array of features. Suffice it to say that no garden enthusiast living even remotely close to Biddulph should miss the opportunity of seeing this awe-inspiring place.