Waddesdon Manor and Gardens
Magnificent house and grounds in the style of a 16th-century French château
Waddesdon Manor was built between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to entertain his guests and display his vast collection of art treasures. It houses an extraordinary assemblage of French 18th-century decorative arts. The furniture, Savonnerie carpets and Sèvres porcelain rank in importance with the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Louvre in Paris. Outstanding are the portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds, works by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish Masters, and a spectacular silver dinner service made for George III. The extensive wine cellars can be visited. Waddesdon has one of the finest Victorian gardens in Britain, renowned for its seasonal displays, colourful shrubs, giant tree ferns, parterre, statuary and restored pleasure garden. There is a rose garden, and the rococo-style aviary, newly painted and gilded, houses a splendid collection of exotic birds. Look out for a new feature at Frog Fountain steps
THE GARDENS AT WADDESDON
The garden today is essentially the one laid out by Baron Ferdinand and his French landscape designer, Elie Lainé. When Baron Ferdinand bought the estate in 1874, the central hill was mostly farmland with few trees. In the next ten years a dramatic transformation took place. The crown of the hill was levelled and planted with mature trees, drives and banks were created and formal gardens were planted and decorated with sculpture. Baron Ferdinand’s sister, Alice (1847-1922), maintained the 19th century form of the garden and added rare specimen trees and shrubs.
The Parterre on the south side of the Manor is one of Waddesdon’s most eye-catching features and the focal point for most of the reception rooms and bedrooms. Made up of 50,000 plants the bedding is changed twice a year to give a spring and then summer display. One long bed by the fountain in the centre of the Parterre is made up of carpet bedding. Each year this is planted up to reflect particular themes.
Part of the original outer garden, now called the Baron’s Walk, to the east of the House, leads from the upper terrace to a glade behind the statue of Apollo Belvedere to a contemporary sculpture by Stephen Cox “Terra Degli Etruschi – Earth (or Ground) of the Etruscans”. Visitors are able to enjoy spectacular views over the estate and surrounding countryside as well as a tranquil walk through woodland. Snowdrops have multiplied in their thousands in this part of the garden.
Other statuary found along the Baron’s Walk are two figures of Venus and Adonis by Jan van Logteren, one of the foremost Dutch sculptors of the early 18th century. They were formerly in the Italian Garden at the nearby Rothschild house at Aston Clinton, and were used for target practise during the War, but despite some losses retain their Baroque monumentality in a romantic setting.
The Rose Garden, is a tribute to the original rose garden laid out by Miss Alice de Rothschild who inherited the estate from her brother, Baron Ferdinand. It is planted with six hundred roses in a spectrum of colours and fragrances, a spectacular display from June until the first frosts. An antique rose arbour has been added to the centre of this area together with four simple rose arches.
Daffodil Valley is at its best in spring and early summer, first when covered in daffodils and then with various species of wild flowers, including orchids, cowslips and ox-eye daisies. The grass is mown only in early October and raked by hand to allow the flowers to seed themselves.
TheTulip Patch, situated just past the Stables, is a wilder area of the garden with grottoes and a winding path which leads down to the Plant Centre. This area is now home to Angus Fairhurst’s bronze gorilla, A Couple of Differences between Thinking and Feeling. From late winter into early spring you will see snowdrops and hellebores in abundance.
In the summer, three-dimensional bedding, a kind of horticultural sculpture, can be seen in the form of a giant bird planted close to the Aviary.
The Aviary lies at the heart of the gardens, it is stocked with exotic species some of which were once part of Baron Ferdinand’s collection and is well known for breeding endangered species. The aviary glade, once a tennis court, features another contemporary sculpture. Perceval, is a life-like rendering of a Suffolk Punch with his cart of giant marrows, made by Sarah Lucas from coloured, patinated bronze and cast concrete.
Waddesdon’s gardens are considered one of the finest Victorian gardens in Britain and are a joy to see at any time of the year.