Italy Garden at Biddulph Grange Garden

Italy to shelter house

James Bateman built his mansion in the Italian style following the fashion of the period. It is therefore not surprising that on the land dropping steeply away from it he made a series of formal terraces as a means of connecting the house with the level ground and lake below.

Wet and windy

As a gardener, James understood that he could not grow the plants of a typical Italian garden on his wet and windy English hillside. Instead he planted in the style of an Italian garden but using plants from around the world to create his desired effect.

Lateral thinking

To replace the enclosing evergreens such as bay and laurustinus, there are banks of variegated holly, rhododendrons and sweet-scented azaleas from the Caucasus. There remains one of Bateman’s Pieris floribunda, from the south east of the USA, the hardiest of its tribe and then highly desirable and expensive because it flowered early, in March. Instead of the narrow cypresses universally associated with Italian gardens and seen in so many religious paintings of the Renaissance, there are the upright forms of bone-hardy junipers, native even in the high-rainfall areas of the English Lake District.

Formality and colour

Alongside the descending path, the Batemans introduced a colourful summer bedding display of plants reared under glass and set out, as today, in ribbons beside the path. It is the kind of labour-intensive, formal gardening that was especially fashionable through those middle decades of the 19th century. In Biddulph’s Italy Garden, that formal fashion has survived.

The Italy Garden represents one end of the spectrum of garden styles at Biddulph. However, this high formality looks down not upon Italianate pools and fountains but to an informal lake and green English parkland beyond. James Bateman was creating a garden which encompassed so many styles simultaneously, an expression of the many works of which man was capable, and a showcase for God’s natural world.