The Dahlia Walk at Biddulph Grange Garden
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'.
Biddulph’s most spectacularly colourful showpiece
The dahlias are planted out in June after the danger of early frosts is over and they flower spectacularly, reaching a peak in early Septemer. 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.
Much more than dahlias
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.
A labour of love
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.