Picture-perfect pleasure grounds

The pond in the pleasure grounds at Arlington Court

The thirty acres of grounds that surround the house at Arlington are set in picturesque style. The planting was carefully designed to give views and vistas mainly from the house but also from carriage drives and footpaths.

Picture(sque) perfect

The picturesque style was very fashionable in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century; hence the Chichester family choosing to have their grounds landscaped this way. Features and follies were often used to create interest for visitors to discover on trips through the gardens. Contrasts between areas of light and shade, formal and informal, natural and unnatural were all important within a picturesque garden. The easiest way to think of it is as if stepping into a picture of a wonderful view.
A sea of purple camassias in the grounds at Arlington Court
Purple camassias in the gardens at Arlington Court

Early changes

During the remodelling of the medieval manor house south of the church, in 1790, Colonel John Chichester redesigned the old Tudor gardens into picturesque parkland. When the current house was built in the 1820s, Colonel Chichester continued to develop the area around his new house in the picturesque style. This involved removing hedgerows and cultivated land and moving towards more clusters of trees and shrubs with grassland between.
Tea time in the gardens with all tools abandoned
A wheelbarrow loaded with plant cuttings at Arlington Court

Unfulfilled ambitions

Colonel John’s son, Sir John Chichester, had grander plans for the gardens and estate. He rebuilt some of the gate houses and Home Farm in a more gothic style to create interest when visitors arrived. From the gate houses, visitors would have travelled to the house on long winding carriage drives with a number of views and points of interest en route. One drive would have crossed the lake on a suspension bridge, which was left unfinished when he died in 1851; the bridge piers are still visible to anyone venturing to the old lake.
The estate passed to his son Sir Bruce Chichester, who introduced monkey puzzle trees to the grounds and gardens as a wedding present to his wife, Lady Rosalie.
Monkey-puzzles were first brought back to Britain in 1795, their nuts eaten as an after-dinner delicacy.
Monkey Puzzle tree in Pinetum at Biddulph Grange Garden

Reclaimed by nature

Miss Rosalie Chichester, daughter of Sir Bruce and Lady Rosalie, took control of the estate in 1881 and seems to have maintained the grounds and gardens as her father left them until the 1920s. At this time, nature was allowed to take control. This was in part caused by Rosalie’s love of wildlife, but financial and social circumstances may have contributed. After the Second World War, outer areas of the pleasure grounds not regularly visited by Miss Chichester would have been completely left to grow wild. In 1949 she died and the estate passed to the National Trust.

Trust ownership

In the 1970s John Sales, then Chief Gardens Adviser for the National Trust, advised Arlington to adopt a more historically informed approach to the gardens and grounds. The Victorian garden was developed further with a long border introduced on the top tier of the gardens. A ha-ha was created on the south and west edge of the pleasure grounds to replace a fence which had prevented deer and livestock entering the park.
Vibrant azaleas bring the borders to life in early May
A vibrant display of azaleas in the Victorian garden at Arlington Court

Protecting the garden for the future

The 21st century has seen further changes. Phytopthora was found on a number of large rhododendrons within the grounds and all affected plants needed to be removed. Today the gardeners work with nature to create natural beauty, using native plants where possible. Introduction of spring and autumn interest plants is one way the gardeners are replacing the lost colour from the rhododendrons.