The Pinetum at Biddulph Grange Garden

The Pinetum

One of the richest collections of conifers in mid-Victorian England

What is a pinetum?

Historically, the word 'pinetum' described a collection of conifers - pines, monkey puzzles, firs, spruces, cedars, cypresses - and also deciduous conifers such as larch. This is what James Bateman planted, but with the addition of trees such as oaks and thorns for good measure.

Entering the Pinetum via a curved stone tunnel adds an element of surprise
Entering the Pinetum via a curved stone tunnel adds an element of surprise

Ingenious planting

Fine lawns flank a gravel path, with raised banks of different shapes and heights behind them. Bateman planted in generous groups to create striking features. He used golden yews and hollies to produce a change of colour and to mark the transition from one group of plantings to another.

Many of his conifer groups were planeted on top of long mounds to improve the drainage at their roots; the instant elevation also allowing them to be viewed from below. The mound-planting offers the bonus of seeing the roots on the surface of the soil, grasping at the earth to support the trees’ massive weight.

Monkey puzzles galore

In Victorian times, conifers arrived in Britain that looked hugely different from the kinds of tree to which people were accustomed. Bateman’s beloved monkey-puzzles (Araucaria araucana, from Chile) appeared more like the types of plant found in fossils.

It is easy to think that all monkey puzzles look the same but, when seen in a group, it becomes apparent just how much they vary; some more pendulous, some tighter, some broader. James Bateman appreciated that diversity and gave each of his monkey puzzles an individual name.

The leathery, spiny foliage of Bateman’s monkey-puzzles
The leathery, spiny foliage of Bateman’s monkey-puzzles

Where the aspect is sunny enough, there are clusters of brightly coloured rhododendrons and perfumed azaleas, tall tree-heathers turning white in April, magnolias, the spindle-berry Euonymus alatus renowned for its corky-winged stems and fiery autumn colours, Osmanthus heterophyllus which carries tiny sweet-scented flowers in October, and Juniperus recurva with its dry, slinky twiglets.