If you saw my previous post this month, you’ll know I recently got an allotment plot and have begun to clear up its neglect with help from my other half. But what I haven’t revealed is why I chose to take on an allotment, and […]
I had the pleasure of visiting the Abbeywood Estate Gardens in Cheshire twice in 2017. Both occasions were markedly different in terms of the weather and flora. The first was a warm day in early August with interesting clouds flitting overhead and a great deal […]
I buy so many books – usually on gardening and grow-your-own – it’s unbelievable. So I thought to myself: why not share some book reviews online? Kicking off our bookworming is the RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’, which I purchased for £14.99 from Waterstones along with the RHS ‘Genealogy for Gardeners’. I must confess that scientific botany hasn’t been on my mind much since A-level Biology. It was the pretty, tactile, muted covers which grabbed my attention. The fact that they were a beautiful duo appealed even more; I’m a sucker for an attractive matching set of books. I then discovered they’re part of a trio! My wallet’s throbbing…
Who would benefit from RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’?
‘Botany for Gardeners is written for those interested in gardening but with a desire to dip a toe into the science behind plants…Gardeners wishing to explore the practical side of these subjects in more detail are advised to read further afield’ – p.6
If I were to choose ideal recipients of the RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’, three profiles spring to mind. First is the keen gardener with a desire to understand the processes happening beyond their backdoor a tad better. Next up, we have the A-level Biology student who needs information but not too much depth yet. Thirdly, we have the beginner student of Horticulture, Botany, Ecology or the like who requires a quick reference book.
How is the book beneficial?
As I’ve hinted at above, ‘Botany for Gardeners’ is an excellent overview of plant biology, without going into too much detail. It’s easy to navigate. It has not just informative but beautiful imagery; even the most basic of line drawings is captivating. Educational images aren’t the only sort included though. Plant paintings adorn almost every page, their forms filled in with subdued hues. It’s all very 18th-19th Century, which I love.
The book is also a handy guide to practical matters in the garden. You’ll discover how to assist your plants in their growth, propagation and prevention or control of pests and diseases. Furthermore, you’ll understand why we do what we have to do in the garden.
For the trainee, student, or dedicated plantsperson, this book includes introductions to some key historical plant hunters and advocates. Again, it doesn’t delve into too much depth, rather opting for an overview of their lives and achievements. It’s an excellent springboard for finding out more in future about topics which spark your interest within its pages.
I dislike picking out negatives about books. However, one fault I do have with the RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’ is the size of its text. I don’t always have the clearest vision, even with contacts in or glasses on. Combine this with reading by lamp in an evening, and the tiny words can be a strain to pick over. It’s definitely one of the most minute texts I’ve read in a long while.
Perfect companion book
There are two perfect companions to this book: the RHS ‘Genealogy for Gardeners’, which I have yet to read, but which will expand upon the first main section of this volume. It goes into detail about monocots and dicots, among other classifications. It’s a topic I’ve contemplated learning more about for years now.
Since finding out about it, the RHS ‘Latin for Gardeners’ is on my list too, simply to complete the set. I was already gifted a book on botanical Latin – a pleasure for my linguist background anyway – but I just need all three of these RHS guides to adorn my bookshelves!
If you don’t want to venture into a bookshop – I know the temptation is real – it can be ordered from Amazon here for around £10.
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?
How does your garden grow? Full of spontaneous plant purchases? Despite not having my own garden at the moment, I’m still dabbling with plants and produce in my poor parents’ outdoor space. They’re inundated with plant pots, and I’ve only gone and picked up even […]
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?