Tatton Park
2008-08-22. The beech walk, Tatton Park.

July 18th, 2010
Tatton Park: Beech Walk

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence, depressed…
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
— William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book Twelfth

I have been holding the memory of this walk through Tatton Park in reserve, waiting for a miserable summer day in Austin to pull it out and use it like a charm against the heat.

I began at the Knutsford entrance and walked through the beech wood to Tatton Park garden. Almost as I begin my walk, a misty rain starts to fall. The trees are so dense that very little rain falls on me.

In Austin we are suffering drought but Cheshire has had a rainy summer. I enjoy the novelty of picking my way down the muddy track. Sometimes there are huge mucky puddles and I have to backtrack to get around them. The walk is so dark and wet that even though it is just two rows of trees lining a path, I can imagine that I’m lost deep in a forest.

Tatton Park

My only company is the sheep.

Tatton Park

I visit the gardens and have lunch the Stables Restaurant. They are promoting locally grown (Cheshire) food including vegetables grown at Tatton. This is the best meal I’ve ever had at an RHS garden. At other garden shops, it’s usually just a supermarket scone and teabag in hot water for “tea”.

I thought I’d be energized by lunch enough to tour the gardens more. I’ve been here so many times that after I visit my favorite spots I decide it’s better to begin the walk home.

Tatton Park
Of all the trees, I loved this one the best.

I linger. I loll. I meander. I soak up the impressions, stopping often to take photographs or to write. It takes almost three hours to get home: one hour down beech walk, and two hours from Knutsford to Mobberley.

Tatton Park
Melchett Mere

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
— William Wordsworth, Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey


Tatton Park: The Italian Garden
Tatton Park: The Japanese Garden

Tatton Park Japanese Garden
The sunlight illuminates all the various shades and textures of green in the Japanese Garden at Tatton Park.

July 28th, 2007
Tatton Park: The Japanese Garden

Japan is my adopted second culture and yet I’ve never had a desire to replicate a Japanese garden in my own yard. When most people think of a Japanese garden, they conjure up visions of the great temple gardens, or the gardens of the Imperial Palace, or the tea gardens of wealthy manors of old. Mimicking those gardens in a backyard in Texas seems as eccentric as building a miniature garden of Versailles. Would I put a Shinto shrine in my garden? Why not a mini Stonehenge?

Tioram Castle
NIMBY. Stone circle on beach in front of Castle Tioram, Scotland

And that’s the key to how I feel about Japanese gardens outside Japan. They are examples of a style, museum pieces rather than livable gardens. We could argue that the Italian garden was an example too. I think the difference is that I can walk through the Italian garden, sit in it and read, dangle my fingers in the fountain. It’s comfortable and inviting. The Japanese garden seems reserved and distant.

Of course, Tatton Park is not my little back yard and the Egertons had enough space (about the size of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco) to work with. Choosing to create examples of different types of gardens was a great idea–especially for those of us on a visit. It’s almost like shopping at the mall. “Are you in the mood for Italian or Japanese tonight, dear?” “Oh, let’s just sit in the fernery.”

The Japanese Garden at Tatton Park has been restored just recently and is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in the UK. It’s sited in what looks like a little gully with a stream running through it to a large lily pond. Lots of moss grows here, too. The combination enables you to imagine a little bit of the steep and rocky terrain of Japan here in the fine grassy plains of Cheshire.

Tatton Park Japanese Garden

Many plants found in Japan grow here. They seem larger and a bit wilder than their clipped counterparts in a formal garden in Japan. The feeling I got was of stumbling across some forgotten teahouse hidden in a mountain forest. Part of me wanted to go inside. (Due to the fragility of the garden, one is not allowed to walk through it.) But part of me didn’t need the signposts or chains to make me hesitate…to sense that this is a sacred space that one doesn’t intrude on casually.

Tatton Park Italian Garden
A rare spot of sunlight breaks out over the Italian Garden at Tatton Park while storm clouds threaten in the background.

July 26th, 2007
Tatton Park: The Italian Garden

My visits to England are constrained by school holidays and, as a result, I have never managed to be in town for the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. However, the gardens at Tatton Park are always worth a visit anyway.

Rather than garden rooms like Hidcote Manor where the small gardens flow from one to another changin. moods and showing off various collections of plants, the multiple gardens at Tatton Park are distinct and separate entities which reflect the international interests of the former Egertons who made them. Thus you find a Japanese garden, an African Hut, and an Italian garden scattered among the grounds in addition to more domestic English borders, rose gardens, great lawns, walled vegetable gardens, long walk, fernery, rhododendron-filled woods, and a maze.

For some reason, I’d never stumbled across the Italian Garden, before. This time, however, map in hand we made our way through the woods, past the Leech Pool, to the Mercury Pool (god not chemical as I’d thought), and up to the Italian Garden from below, hiking up a steep lawn, at first seeing only the roses tumbling over the balustrade and color from a long border of lavender above us. We turned the corner…

Tatton Park Italian Garden

… and entered a formal garden which made a stunning contrast to the naturalistic woods and ponds that we had just come from. Tatton’s Italian Garden was designed in 1847 by Joseph Paxton who designed the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

As you might expect then, it’s not too shabby.

Tatton Park Italian Garden

What I love about this garden most, is the siting–the contrast of the clean formal lines and flat terrace against the informal backdrop of trees, fields, and small lakes beyond.

The garden layout was designed to be viewed from above, looking down from the mansion, like this.

Tatton Park Italian Garden

I’m glad we sneaked in the back way, appreciating the parts before seeing the whole.

We had the garden almost to ourselves and I enjoyed a sense of proprietorship as I always do. AJM took the opportunity to sit and read. I strolled through the garden, brushing my fingers through the lavender hedge, and dreamed.

Tatton Park Italian Garden

Hidcote Manor Garden
2006-05-21. The rain meant we had the garden almost to ourselves but we weren’t able to linger as we might if the weather had been sunnier.

May 21st, 2006
Hidcote Manor Garden

Rain was falling on and off as we snaked along winding back roads through picturesque Cotswolds villages on our way to Hidcote Manor Garden. A covey of Japanese tourists flitting across the street in Chipping Campden was the first hint of the international popularity of Hidcote, which has been called one of the most influential gardens of the 20th century. Why? Despite its 10 acres, Hidcote is an extremely intimate garden. Lawrence Johnston created a series of small garden rooms, each with a unique character which comes into full bloom at varying times of the season. This garden room approach to design was adopted by Sissinghurst and Tintinhull.

As you step into the garden, the view of the whole is cut off by tall hedges. The first room we entered was the White Garden. The layout is small enough to fit in my back yard. Of course, I could never grow hedges like these in Texas and, if I could, I’d need an army of garden helpers with clippers to keep them looking this neat. I’ve seen many photographs of the White Garden and have to say that during our visit the flowers looked sadly beaten down by the rain. Even the best gardens have less than perfect days. The tulips and daffodils were mostly finished, anyway, and the roses (“Gruss an Aachen” which I had before the drought killed it) hadn’t begun blooming yet.

Hidcote Manor Garden
In the White Garden AJM examines the map of the garden and is surprised to discover that it just “goes on and on”.

The White Garden has an exit through the hedges on each side of the square which gave me the feeling of playing a video game as we tried to decide which way to go. We circled around several times trying to take it all in before heading through the Old Garden (which had an exuberant cottage garden feel), through the Circle (a restful circle of perfect lawn), and then down through the Fuchsia Garden (formal maze).

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Fuchsia Garden manages to look nice even when the Spanish bluebell (?) bulbs have died down. Knot gardens (aka parterres) became fashionable when people realized that the hedges used to line their borders could be just as interesting as flowers and a more reliable element in the design.

From the Fuchsia Garden, topiary birds guard the entrance to the Bathing Pool Garden (classically formal and elegant) which in turn leads to the Upper Stream Garden (semi-wild). What a place to play hide-and-seek!

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Upper Stream Garden.

We walked up to one of my favorite views, the Winter Garden. I think I liked it because it felt so open after the smaller garden rooms. This contrast between open and intimate, formal and informal, and of colors and textures is the genius of Hidcote.

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Winter Garden.

Running parallel to the Winter Garden is the Red Border. I really liked the color choices in this garden…all the maroon-toned leaves were a relief after the intense English greens.

Hidcote Manor Garden
In the Red Border clumps of red-toned trees and shrubbery contrast against the angular green lawn and hedges.

Just as Hidcote’s maze of garden rooms starts to become a little claustrophobic, the Long Walk suddenly provides a vista.

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Long Walk and its hornbeam hedges.

And still the garden goes on. We cross over to the famous Theatre Lawn, which is supposed to highlight a single beech on its stage. We didn’t see it though. Has the beech died? Then we went on through the Pine Garden and Lily Pool, took shelter in the Plant House, and continued down the Rose Walk which didn’t have any roses. Instead large purple alliums were in bloom, and so many other purple flowers that I would have called it the Purple Border.

I’m sorry to say that our interest flagged in the rain. There is simply too much to absorb in one visit–29 different gardens. I think we focused mostly on the layout of each garden and how they were interconnected rather than the individual plants. This is a shame because Lawrence Johnston is remembered mostly as an avid plant collector. Apparently he did not have a master design for the whole, but created different spaces, such as the Maple Garden, to highlight different collections.

We did see the odd handkerchief tree (Davidia involocrata) in the courtyard whose white bracts make it look as if someone has tied a thousand large white handkerchiefs to its branches. I also saw a Mahonia, which grows in Texas, and a magnolia where the white flowers drooped down rather than up. Some of the collection is labeled, but many plants that I wanted to know more about weren’t.

By the end we were all flowered out. As we drove away, feeling tired but satisfied, the sun came out.