Hardwick Hall was one of those places I’d heard others talk about often, but had never properly visited. It’s relatively close to where I grew up – just under an hour’s drive – and to call its leading lady of history “interesting” would be a […]
Which other gardens can you visit and find yourself walking leisurely from one country to another? Biddulph Grange is that garden.
Of course, all gardens in modern times are a journey across continents. Even our most pedestrian suburban plots probably have several international guests. Rudbeckia comes from North America; Crocosmia hails from South Africa; Eucalyptus is Australian. So what makes Biddulph Grange different? Areas of the garden are landscaped to look like foreign regions. They house features that echo exotic design. You can’t miss where you are meant to be in the world.
The quirkiness of Biddulph Grange is explained a little by taking a look in the Geological Gallery. This was once the original entrance to the garden for Victorian visitors. It was commissioned by then-owner of the property, James Bateman, and first opened in 1862.
It is a part of the grounds seemingly disconnected from the gardens, but in fact underpins them entirely.
Bateman made his fortune through industrial and banking means, and spent the money on Biddulph. He was keenly interested in botany and collected plants from around the world.
Additionally, he was a religious man. Experts believe his faith was deeply inspired by the Scottish evangelist Hugh Miller. Theology was confronted by science and evolution in the Victorian era, and thrown into disarray. Miller and subsequently Bateman were both scientists and religious men, and they hit on a way to combine the two aspects.
It was hypothesised that the Bible was correct to talk of the world being made in six days. These were not days as we would immediately think. A day represented a vast number of years, and in each of these epochs God created different species which eventually went extinct. In this way, geology and fossil evidence are valid, and prove the existence of a Creator rather than overturning it.
The Geological Gallery walked the curious through days 1 to 6, showcasing wonders dug from the earth and now embedded in the walls. These wonders are being cared for and the gallery renovated at the present time.
Upon leaving this indoor walkway and entering the garden, the visitor arrives at the seventh day: the day of rest. The visitor reaches the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve awoke. Here are all the world’s plants, thriving in one perfect place. Here chaos is kept at bay.
Interestingly, chaos did creep in. The house is not Bateman’s. The main part of the original property burnt down, as did several outbuildings, such as the orangery. Reconstruction was grander and took place in 1897.
In the 1920s the house was sold again and became a hospital. It remained such until 1991, and significant changes occurred. Modern hospital wings were added and the garden fell into ruin. The Geological Gallery was used as storage and even partially removed for development.
Following the hospital closure, a private developer eventually breathed new life into the house, as private apartments. The gardens underwent careful excavation and terraces and plantings were recreated. Wilderness was tamed to return the different areas to their Victorian glory.
The garden’s boundaries conceal Biddulph’s verdant Victorian treasures. They also belie the number of regions you can explore in one small bit of Britain.
You may recall in my post about Villa Marlia that I encouraged sticking to a planned route. Well, forget that here. If you must start somewhere, see the Geological Gallery first and imagine yourself taken back in time, welcomed as the original visitors would have been. Perhaps then take a trip up Wellingtonia Avenue and back down the Woodland Walk. I found this charming on a sunny spring day, yet commonplace. Many gardens around the country have such elements.
From the way in, via the gift shop, you descend through Italy. The balustrades and staircase are magnificent. It’s hard to visualise how a previous house, pre-1800s blaze, could have matched their grandeur. They aren’t large; they’re strong. They make a statement. As does the planting softening the edges of the Italianate section. In April, on my first trip, it was blocks and lines of blush pink tulips accompanied by blue and white Lobularia maritima. By September, Salvia, Senecio cineraria and blousey begonias lined Italy’s steps. Small cypress cones give year-round continuity.
Around 70% of the earth is covered in water. Biddulph isn’t quite as earth-like in this respect as in others, but it does utilise water frequently. From Italy, you can turn left to enjoy the lake. You’ll see ducks and the odd koi. Above all, walking to its far bank, you’ll look back and see the gloriously elevated house with its terrace. In spring and early summer, irises crowd stretches of the banking, introducing colour plus a difference in foliage. Please note that children should be accompanied here: it’s possible to descend some steps from below the house right to the water’s edge.
The parterres can be found below the sun terrace of the house, although I found little thrill in these sadly. They really aren’t the best part of the garden and feel too claustrophobic to work in my opinion.
From the parterres and the lakeside you can make your way up the world-famous Dahlia Walk. I love dahlias for their variety of shapes and massive range of colours. The reason Matt and I returned to Biddulph in September was to make the most of this path. Unfortunately 2017 has not been the year for dahlias here. The gardeners feel it could be a gradual build-up of pests and diseases in the soil as well as a reduction in goodness which contributed to this failure.
Some of the dahlias were flowering wonderfully. A full display would have been a sight to behold. Nonetheless, I’m not a fan of monoculture. Worked into a mixed border I find dahlias add extra interest, extra zing. The Dahlia Walk was more of a country fair tent. That doesn’t stop it being worth the trip though, for ideas on varieties if nothing else.
The far end of the Dahlia Walk passes into the Stumpery – reminiscent of dinosaur fossils arching up over the slopes. You wonder if this was planned by James Bateman decades before, the keen geologist-theologian that he was. From this gloomy area you can climb up to look from the tower over the Dahlia Walk…
…go on into Egypt with its pair of sphinxes and creepy tomb-like tunnel…
…or head right to reach China. You’ll find a vivid red and green bridge. It’s the perfect spot to take in the little pond, adorned with acers, and the Chinese temple ahead of you. Victorian confusion over oriental elements rears its head in this dell, when you notice the gilded cow looking out from the cliffside. Cows are sacred in Hinduism rather than Chinese faiths. As for the sun disc on its head – that’s an Ancient Egyptian thing! Perhaps I’m being cynical, and Bateman was simply blending the cosmopolitan side of his gardens into a single feature.
Ring the bells on the Chinese pagoda, then pass through the dark caverns, keeping an eye out for the ice pit. You’ll return to the light in the Himalayan Glen. Curiously, this is only noted as “the Glen” on the map. This will do little to dispel the myth that it’s a Scottish scene rather than Asian. Planting here is not British. Rhododendrons alone would have brought a sense of the Himalayas to the garden. Nowadays I for one take these plants for granted. The stream running through the Glen really brings that extra “something” to this little nook.
The Pinetum runs parallel to China and the Glen. You can reach it via the tunnel from Egypt which most bizarrely deposits you at a traditional Cheshire Cottage. The Pinetum path is serene. The light is gorgeous as it filters through on a sunny day, just as in April for us.
Apologies if this tour of the garden has felt back-and-forth. As stated earlier, this is intentional. There is no guidance on how to traverse the grounds, nor should there be.
Go wild. Get lost. Wander. A couple of volunteers have told us the aim at Biddulph Grange was to meander and backtrack, and that even they lose their way after years of experience. This is part of the pleasure of the place. Without the backtracking, you’d miss alternative angles of looking. With these different perspectives, you spot points of interest previously overlooked.
I didn’t mention the numerous seats in the previous section, nor did I describe every architectural point. There is an almost Provençal tower close to China. There is a small pagoda summerhouse on top of a slope. Beyond the lake, behind The Americas, you’ll find a tennis lawn clearing.
Part of the joy of Biddulph Grange is how many hours you can spend just weaving in and out on a voyage of discovery. The high hedges and tall trees contribute to this adventure. So too do the stone walls and tunnels. These barriers are your oceans to cross, dividing territories.
The lake amplifies the exquisiteness of the grounds. The house is reflected beautifully on the placid water beneath. In spring, the pinks and reds of the rhododendrons and azaleas are doubled in splendour through this feature. In autumn it’s the turn of the fiery hues to be magnified. In some places I feel a lake is just there because that’s what was expected. I could enjoy many gardens without water features. In Biddulph the body of water is situated perfectly. The various encounters with water in diverse forms around the grounds enhances the lake’s presence.
No garden is complete without focus points. Biddulph contains many. These can be whatever we like, as long as they draw the eye. Think statue, imposing plant, large decorative planter. Think fountain or elaborate mounted mirror. It could even be a bespoke table and chairs in a designated space. If we have the room, we can go for more than one. In this instance, be sure they’re separated enough (in distance or seclusion) so as not to confuse rather than direct the viewer.
An air of mystery and motion is quintessential at Biddulph Grange. What’s through this tunnel? What if I turn right rather than left? What will I see from the top of this tower? We can’t all have follies. We can encourage friends and family to turn corners, peer round bushes or focus through ethereal specimens.
Many of us gardeners know the importance of crop rotation in veg growing. This practice is just as vital for other flora. Dahlias have been grown in the same beds at Biddulph for many years, and iconic as the Dahlia Walk is, now could be the time to let it rest for a while. Remember this at home. Trees and shrubs have their home for life usually. We want perennials to stay put for an indefinite timeframe. However, we should move bulbs and annuals around. Dig up and divide perennials every so often and move them on. Let’s reinvigorate our garden’s look periodically. It brings interest as well as garden health.
What plant inspiration did I glean from Biddulph? Most unexpectedly, while wandering the half-empty Dahlia Walk, I picked up on a large leaved perennial with speckled pink-purple flowers. It’s called Tricyrtis formosana and it grows in sun or dappled shade with moist soil for its rhizomatous roots. It flowers through early autumn. Its coloration reminded me of martagon lilies which I have long loved.
If you’ve ever visited Biddulph Grange gardens, which was your favourite aspect?
Sometimes it’s easy to get swept away in the hustle and bustle, and the excitement of constant activity too. Sometimes it’s soothing just to relax, no plans, no deadlines. How many of us are guilty of forgetting that?
From Friday evening to Sunday night, the only plan Matt and I had were “getting off the grid”. Letting go of being live wires. A weekend in North Yorkshire was on the cards (as were other board games, although I think we only managed a few rounds of Connect Four). Ok, so Friday evening didn’t begin completely chilled. The SatNav took us directly through Leeds and out via Otley. Not the most straightforward route, though thankfully the Leeds roads were quiet.
In a way it added an extra layer of pleasure when we reached our destination finally, as we couldn’t wait just to relax. I cooked up a simple bruschetta with some tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, garlic and basil, plus slices of heated halloumi and dollops of balsamic glaze. We may have washed it down with a couple of bottles of prosecco…
Saturday was where it was at! We’ve had some brilliant days out visiting open gardens and National Trust estates over more recent months, and I would never tire of that. However, both of us love country walks, and that’s certainly what we got. Nothing revives the soul quite like a stroll over hill and dale, admiring the spectacular scenery.
Our walk took us out from Pateley Bridge, up the hill along a stretch of the Nidderdale Way and through small settlements such as Blazefield, Low Laithe and Glasshouses, before we returned to Pateley for a couple of pints at The Royal Oak pub.
Our halfway point, as such, was Brimham Rocks, a National Trust location. It’s all about the landscape. Amongst the trees, heather and wildflowers stand remarkable rock formations, ancient and sometimes mind-boggling in their anti-gravity feats. Check out Idol Rock, for example!
There’s a lovely little gift shop with a gallery space up above, and a small coffee bar in a separate outbuilding.
By the time we returned to our lodgings (for yet more prosecco), we’d walked around 10 miles. I have to say, it felt further, but I put that down to the constancy of our climbs. Unlike our usual walking weather, the sky was good to us, with just the occasional short shower and plenty of warm sunlight.
This clambering clematis, struggling for freedom from its overgrown garden confines, caught my eye…
…as did the spontaneity of being able to hire a llama companion in Nidderdale…
…and how plainly pretty is this row of terrace houses?
After a long day and a late night of, whoops, more boozing, Sunday morning was a welcome lazy lie-in. We followed this up with a steady jaunt across to Grassington for lunch in a quaint little tearoom/bistro called The Retreat. Its staff were absolutely some of the friendliest and most positive ever encountered, and we had the added bonus of chatting briefly in the courtyard with an Australian lady touring Europe and the U.K. with her partner. The food was delicious. I’d ordered a goats cheese and tomato panini with chips and salad, while Matt had a vegetarian lasagne which looked and smelt fantastic. Apparently it tasted just as great! Highly recommended to anybody visiting Grassington.
We followed up our lunch with a quick stop to glance in the unassuming entrance to Stump Cross Caverns, describing itself as a 30-40 minute walk through primordial caverns bedecked with fossilised remains. We had never heard of the place and were tempted to go in, but time was ticking on and we had to get back to Pateley Bridge… for scones! I’m adding the caverns to my wish list for a future adventure.
Where did we eat scones? At The Old Granary, a tearoom which gave you the impression it hadn’t altered in years and years and years. Nor would one want it to. The scones were exquisite too. I loved the fact they had a Gluten Free options – something I’m much more aware of these days as a colleague and her daughter are coeliac and are often on the lookout for suitable eateries.
Sunday evening was, for me, as brilliant a part of the weekend away as the long walk on Saturday afternoon. Why? Because Matt and I had a leisurely drive out towards the moors past Gouthwaite Reservoir, in time to watch the sky meld from pale blue through pink and purple to dusky deep hues. We came across a gorgeous little village called Ramsgill with its stately hotel…
…could see out towards Middlesbrough from one hilltop and gaze on a sea of lavender heathers up there…
…and stopped for a nippy nighttime walk around the lofty village of Middlesmoor.
Such a brilliant weekend, I didn’t want to head to bed on Sunday night, but work beckoned the next day and thus an early early start…
I hope you all had a lovely, relaxed weekend with some “off the grid” time. Now you’re back on it, feel free to subscribe to my blog or follow my social media =D
Picture the scene: rolling hills in various shades of green, embracing a soft valley as its river gently meanders through. Trees stand here and there as sentinels at their various posts. Their charge? A magnificent golden edifice hundreds of years old. The location? Chatsworth House, […]
I read on the Pentreath & Hall Inspiration blog earlier this year how the author, Ben Pentreath, was aiming to do one new thing every weekend. Unintentionally I have been doing much the same thing.This weekend just passed was a much more sedate affair, but no less novel and enjoyable.
Friday night saw Matt and I taking a quick trip to Rolando’s Italian restaurant and gelateria in the centre of Lymm. It’s one of my favourite eateries in the area now, with satisfying pizzas and pastas, a drinks license, and starters that really stand out on their own. As for the gelati – delicious! Such an array of flavours and all very reminiscent of the real Italian deal. For those who are gluten intolerant or coeliac, Rolando’s offers gluten-free variations on their dishes (and I’m not just talking jacket potatoes!).
Saturday started out lazily, much as they have been doing for the last three weeks really. I have been shadowing at a local garden design firm and as such, have had to condense my hospital work hours into four days a week rather than five. This has entailed early starts and later finishes, and consequently, longer days overall.
By early afternoon however Matt and myself were up and about, and went off to visit Hare Hill, a smaller National Trust location down towards Macclesfield. I have to say a huge “thank you” to my brother and sister-in-law for their generous gift of National Trust membership for my 30th birthday; I have definitely had my money’s worth from it since receiving it, and shall certainly be keeping it going into the future.
There is not a lot to Hare Hill, but it’s charming. It wasn’t too busy even on the Saturday afternoon, probably due to its size and the entrance being tucked away inconspicuously.
It is mainly wooded, with a beautiful seating area by “Pistol Pond”, overlooking fields of grazing cattle and the hall once connected to the land. There is an unassuming little greenhouse with a veg plot, currently home to some tangled sweet peas (left to their own devices, much to the chagrin of one sociable volunteer) and some burgeoning squash plants.
There is also a walled garden filled with white flowering specimens, encompassing a well maintained level lawn. The sun wasn’t out, but it was a pleasant place to take a seat for a few minutes nonetheless, sheltered from any breeze.
Let’s not forget, while I think, the many hares carved from wood and dotted around the parkland – a dozen if I remember rightly. Great for little ones to seek out. Hare Hill is also fundraising to bring back Rocco the shire horse, employed briefly last year to help dredge the ponds in a sustainable, low impact way. Well worth the contribution I would say, not only for the sake of Hare Hill, but also for this beautiful breed of horse.
Sunday saw us being more “hardcore” – we attended Our Big Gig at the Jean Stansfield Memorial Park in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. The main purpose was to visit Matt’s good friend Lyndsey and her baby (such a cutie), but it felt great to be helping out a charity again (the Friends of Jean Stansfield Park – find them on Facebook) and relaxing with some prosecco in the sun with good company and live music. I have to say, the sun was totally unexpected for us. When we left Matt’s it was grey, wet and a bit chilly – hence rocking up in wellington boots and jeans! Poulton-le-Fylde, on the other hand, was sunny and hot, and everyone else was wearing minimal clothing and flip-flops..!
Sometimes it’s just what you need, no?