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Great Spaces and Places

Here is the article published in Professional Horticulture Issue 2 2016

Where in England can you walk from China to ancient Egypt via Tuscany and the Scottish Glens? The answer, of course, is the amazing garden at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire.

This truly extraordinary Grade 1-listed ‘High Victorian’ garden was created from 1840-1860 in a gardenesque tableaux style by James and Maria Bateman with the help of the artist Edward William Cooke. It was ‘compartmentalised’ a good four decades before the ‘garden rooms’ of Arts and Crafts gardens such as Hidcote and Sissinghurst. It fell into serious disrepair but was rescued and restored by the National Trust in the 1980s.

The garden has around fifteen distinct interlocking sections all hidden from each other by ingenious landscaping and planting and is linked together by tunnels and intertwining paths.

This makes the whole garden a delight for children (and adult kids too!). This was an original ‘theme park’, the theme being the world and its plants which were then being introduced from all four continents, and the garden became a great tree and plant collection being particularly supplied by the celebrated Victorian Loddiges Nursery of Hackney.

The China section has pools and waterfalls, a Chinese Bridge, a temple with a golden water buffalo/ox, a Great Wall of China feature and is planted with many original George Forrest introductions.

The Chinese Garden Temple

A rock tunnel leading out from the colourful, beautifully decorated Chinese Temple emerges into a Himalayan glen garden which is a real treat for adventure-seeking kids, with huge rock formations, a stream, stepping stones, a rhododendron collection and intricate paths

An almost unique feature, on the way to China, is the restored Victorian ‘Stumpery’. This was re-created from stumps donated from an old Welsh oak wood which had been felled and cleared. It is now colonised and planted with woodland flora and ferns, with some stumps having their own identity -the boar’s head and the star -due to their distinctive shapes.

The 'Boar's Head' in the Stumpery

Plant cultivars dating from the ‘High Victorian’ era are generally used throughout the garden, but the splendid Dahlia Walk has some more recent varieties, recognising the Batemans’ constant drive to be innovative. This double-sided border leads, via the stumpery, to an Italian (or is it Moorish?) Tower, with its viewing window over the dahlia border and Italianate terraces.

The walk along the lower terraces includes a lake planted with marginal Iris, native orchids and water lilies and stocked with huge Koi carp.

This terrace connects to Egypt with its sphinxes, clipped yew pyramid and temple portal to a tunnel leading to the chamber of the ‘Ape of Thoth’ statue, the deity of equilibrium, bathed in red light from a tinted skylight above.

Emerging from the tunnel you walk out of a Cheshire cottage into another glen, or pinetum and you wonder if Lewis Carroll had a hand in this garden’s design!

Other features include a bowls green and quoits court, a cherry orchard, a Wellingtonia and Deodar Avenue, a reading room/bookshop and a geological gallery which is currently in the process of restoration.

And when you’ve finished your world tour there’s always the fine tea-room with an excellent choice of meals, drinks and snacks.

This compact and complex garden is a must-see for anyone interested in garden history, landscape design, architectural features, trees and plants, or if you’re just looking for a great place to keep the family entertained and active for a few hours!

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