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. He moved to Biddulph Grange around 1840, from nearby Knypersley Hall. He created the gardens with the aid of his friend and painter of seascapes Edward William Cooke. The gardens were meant to display specimens from Bateman's extensive and wide-ranging collection of plants.
Biddulph Grange "started life as a bog-standard rectory, but around 1840 it was bought by James Bateman...he and his wife Maria had a passion for plants and the money to indulge their interests, and as the house was enlarged they began work on the surrounding gardens. In this they were helped by an artist friend, Edward William Cooke, who was not just a keen designer but whose father-in-law owned one of the biggest plant nurseries of the day, Loddiges of Hackney." The gardens "were designed by James and Maria Bateman. Bateman...bought specimens brought back by the great Victorian plant-hunters and became an expert on orchids."
Bateman was president of the North Staffordshire Field Society, and served on the Royal Horticultural Society's Plant Exploration Committee. The gardens "were meant to display specimens from Bateman's extensive and wide-ranging collection of plants." He especially loved Rhododendrons and Azaleas. Bateman was "a collector and scholar on orchids," He had a number of notable sons who grew up at Biddulph Grange, including the painter Robert Bateman.
His gardens are a rare survival of the interim period between the Capability Brown landscape garden and the High Victorian style. The gardens are compartmentalised and divided into themes: Egypt, China, etc. In 1861 Bateman and his sons, who had used up their savings, gave up the house and gardens, and Bateman moved to Kensington in London. Robert Heath bought Biddulph Grange in 1871. After the house burnt down in 1896, architect Thomas Bower rebuilt it.
The post-1896 house served as a children's hospital from 1923 until the 1960s; known first as the "North Staffordshire Cripples' Hospital" and later as the "Biddulph Grange Orthopaedic Hospital" (though it took patients with non-orthopaedic conditions as well. Under this latter title the hospital's role expanded to accommodate adults, continuing in operation into the mid-1980s.) The 15 acres (6.1 ha) garden became badly run-down and neglected during this period, and the deeply dug-out terraced area near the house around Dahlia Walk was filled in level to make a big lawn for patients to be wheeled out on in summertime. The Bateman property was (and still is) divided: the hospital got the house and its gardens, and the uncultivated remainder of Biddulph Grange's land became the Biddulph Grange Country Park.
Until 1991 the house and gardens "housed an orthopaedic hospital, whose managers (understandably enough) were more concerned with their patients than the weird stuff looming out of rocky outcrops in the grounds. For the best part of a century the gardens decayed, visited only by passing vandals and, more rarely, intrepid folly-hunters."
In 1988 the National Trust took ownership of the property and its gardens, which have now been nearly fully restored, including a long work digging out the Dahlia Walk area archaeology-style to find forgotten features. In 1995–96 the Wellingtonia Walk, which had become post-mature and badly gappy, was clear felled and in that year and the next, replanted. The last bit being restored was the Woodland Terrace, whose site a few years ago was at last rid of a hospital ward building and is still intruded on by houses. The feature known as the Great Wall of China has been rebuilt to cure the effects of long-term subsidence; the work was finished in the winter of 2010–11. A meandering walk route called the Woodland Walk was laid out in time for the 2011 season, in the woods to the left side of the Wellingtonia Walk (looking outward). In 2011 they started planting bulbs and early-summer bedding in Dahlia Walk to cover before the dahlias come into flower.
The garden is divided into many different areas with themes including:
"Behind a gloomy Victorian shrubbery there's a gloomy Victorian mansion, but behind that lurks one of the most extraordinary gardens in Britain...it contains whole continents, including China and Ancient Egypt – not to mention Italian terraces and a Scottish glen."
The "rhododendrons and azaleas are spectacular in late spring, but the pinetum and the evergreen topiary provide year-round interest. It's a fantastic garden for children, with its tunnels and rockeries, and there is a children's quiz trail."
The true brilliance of Biddulph Grange "lies in the way that Cooke and Bateman hid the different areas of the garden from each other, using heaps of rocks and thickly planted shrubberies' the design locks together as tightly as a jigsaw or a cross-section of the brain." It contains "a series of Italianate terraces, connected by steps and enclosing small flower gardens' at the bottom, long, buttressed hedges enclose a dahlia walk," In the Egyptian part of the garden, "Two sphinxes guard the mastaba-like entrance to a tunnel, whose darkness is an invitation to explore. Deep inside is a bloody chamber (lit by a hidden window of red-coloured glass) in which squats the half-spooky, half-comic figure of the Ape of Thoth." - From the Independent.
** – The Dahlia Walk – **
Dahlias are planted in tiers between huge buttressed yew hedging and provide a dazzling display of colour. Yew is used throughout the garden to create bays and 'rooms'. Biddulph Grange is thought to have been the first garden of its era to have used the concept of 'garden rooms'.
The dahlias are planted out in June after the danger of early frosts is over and they flower spectacularly, reaching a peak in early September. Many types of dahlia are planted, such as pompon or ball, which would have been available in the late 19th century but some more modern types such as collarette are included.
Once the dahlias are lifted in late October, the beds are filled with a mixture of bulbs to provide a riot of colour in the spring. Shade at the south-east section of the Walk has proved too difficult for the sun-loving dahlia and here the borders have been planted with shade-tolerant perennials such as Ligularia przewalskii, Japanese anemones and Toad lilies.
It is the powerful arrangement of dark yew hedges that defines this garden and to see it in winter is to appreciate just how dominant they are. Beside every change in gradient, stepped buttresses of hedging jut out to meet the path and appear to support the hedges that enclose the terrace gardens above. It is a massive green construction.
The buttresses also serve another purpose, in winter they hide the prospect of end-to-end bare soil. The buttresses recede like wings of scenery in a theatre, focusing the view at the lower end on a bed of architectural planting, and at the upper end on the Shelter House with its inviting arched entrance and Venetian window above.
The dahlias are mostly grown by the gardeners from the previous year’s tubers. In fact, there are only 2 or 3 months of the year when the gardeners have a rest from working on the dahlias. In late October, after flowering, the tubers are lifted, turned upside down so that excess water drains out, cleaned and stored on newspaper in crates covered by sawdust. In February they are put into trays and covered in compost. When they start to shoot, cuttings are taken and potted on so they grow into healthy plants.
James and Maria Bateman lived at an interesting time in the development of dahlias. They had been introduced to Europe in the late 18th century and by 1860–80 these flowers truly came of age, moving from being just an attractive garden flower to something highly-bred, sophisticated and the subject of serious competitions. The Batemans constructed the walk to house dahlias, the new tender exotics from Mexico.
Sadly, in the 20th century the Dahlia Walk fared less well. During the hospital era, it was filled in completely when the new wards were being built, providing a less dangerous open space for the children. Excavating and reinstating the Walk has been one of the National Trust’s most important projects at Biddulph and its replanted yew hedges are now as substantial as ever they were in the Batemans’ day.
** – Egypt Garden – **
The most dramatic of Biddulph’s exotic tableaux. Even though it is dominated by a grand temple doorway in stone, bearing an image of the sun god Ra and four stone sphinxes, the rest of its massive sculptural presence is created entirely from clipped yew.
Through the centre of a rectangular grass court, surrounded by hedges, runs a path flanked by two pairs of sphinxes and by topiary obelisks. It leads to the stone doorway with the top of a pyramid, also in yew, rising high behind it. To create his topiary obelisks, Bateman planted plain green yews to make the obelisk shafts, but around their base, as a plinth, he planted golden yews. The mix was a regular trick of Victorian gardening that continues to this day in formal gardens where contrast is required between clipped shapes.
Biddulph’s temple doorway leads directly down a gloomy passageway and through further doorways to a small chamber lit by red light from a stained-glass panel above. Here sits the monkey-god Thoth, Buddha-like, squat, hands on knees like a seated man, but with the head of a baboon. Today it seems simultaneously shocking and humorous. There is a curious light-heartedness about all the sculptures in the garden which were created by the English sculptor and naturalist, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.
The Egypt Garden takes up a considerable part of the annual clipping programme, which requires the efforts of two or three men over almost two months.
** – Garden of Gardens – **
Biddulph Grange Garden is one of the most exciting survivals of the great age of Victorian gardening. The international scope of the garden has been compared to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and design features from the exhibition can be found in the garden’s sculptures.
The garden was the vision of one man, James Bateman who, from 1841, spent more than twenty years collecting plants from all over the world. Bateman didn't go on many of the expeditions himself, instead he employed plant hunters who sent the specimens back to him by sea. The plants and trees were brought together at Biddulph amid rockwork, topiary, tree-stumps and an extraordinary collection of eclectic garden buildings designed by Bateman and Edward Cooke.
The National Trust have restored the Grade 1 listed garden to its Victorian heyday using historic descriptions and plans supported by archaeological evidence - the aim being to restore it as closely as possible to James Bateman’s original vision. The main source of inspiration and guidance for the restoration is an 1862 description of the gardens by Edward Kemp. First published in the Gardeners Chronicle, it is the only detailed description of the garden and grounds.
Restorations within the garden are ongoing; there are new things to see each year. The latest projects to be completed are the newly positioned hedges on Wellingtonia Avenue along with the restoration of the watchtower in the China garden which is now ready for you to climb. Ongoing projects include the restoration of the Geological Gallery (the garden's original entrance) and the clearance and replanting of the Glen.
The garden is laid out so that the visitor is led from one area to another in a journey of discovery and exploration. Each garden is separated by hedges, banks and rockwork. Paths, steps and tunnels lead from one to area to another resulting in an intriguing journey of discovery.
The result is spectacularly picturesque including a Chinese landscape based on a willow pattern design; a glen; an Egyptian court and an Italianate garden. Integral to the garden are the rare and exotic plants from all over the globe as well as unusual features from the Victorian period. These include a stumpery, upside down trees and amazing rockwork. A wide variety of wildlife can be seen, including numerous birds and insects, along with the fish who always enjoy a good feed.
Don’t forget to visit their newly refurbished garden shop during your visit to take home some beautiful colour for your own garden. You can even take home a plant as a perfect memory of your visit to Biddulph Grange. Download their list of plants of interest for this season's highlights.
** – Visiting – **
Biddulph Grange Garden is the perfect place to visit with your group. This Grade 1 listed masterpiece is one of the most exciting survivals of the great age of Victorian gardening. The garden is laid out so that the visitor is led from one area to another in a journey of discovery and exploration. There's a lot to see and do, with rare and unusual plants, fine views and impressive trees.
A picnic area is provided adjacent to the car park. Please do not picnic in the formal garden.
Access information. Bicycle riders are welcome, and they have places to secure bikes at reception. Assistance dogs only are permitted within the Garden. Their garden features over 400 steps throughout, as well as many gravel paths, stepping stones, and open sources of water. The Garden is Grade 1 listed, and as a result you will find few handrails available. Some visitors using wheelchairs and walking aids may find areas of the garden difficult to access, and they would ask that you contact them before you visit to help plan your visit.
How to book. Please download and complete the booking form and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org If you require further information or wish to make a provisional booking, please call them on 01782 517999. Why not combine your visit to Biddulph Grange Garden with a trip to Little Moreton Hall? It's only six miles away, so your group can visit both.
** – Facilities – **
Location : Biddulph Grange Gardens, Grange Road, Biddulph, Staffordshire, ST8 7SD
Transport: Congleton (National Rail) then bus, 2.5 miles. Bus routes: 94 from Congleton (passing Congleton train station).
Opening Times : Daily, 10:00 to 17:30.
Tickets : Adult £9.05; Children £4.50.
Group Tickets : £8.20 per adult (see above for details).
Tel: 01782 517999