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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Waddesdon’s Royal Wedding Tribute

Visiting the gardens of Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire the other day, I was amazed to find on the Parterre an elaborate carpet bedding scheme linked to April’s Royal wedding. William and Catherine’s names are spelt out in silver plants below an image of doves carrying wedding rings threaded on ribbons. It looks complicated, but carpet bedding today is much easier to create than in Victorian times. The design is translated into a grid system on a computer, with each square corresponding to a tray of plants chosen for their colour and texture. The trays are delivered and slotted into place over two days, rather like painting by numbers.

Waddesdon was created in the late 19th century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. He built on a grand scale, with no expense spared. The top of the hill which dominated what had been a farming estate was removed to provide a platform for a French Renaissance-style mansion, and as there was no running water, 11 miles of pipe were laid from Aylesbury. The house was opened only in the summer for weekend house parties. The future Edward VII was a frequent visitor.
On Ferdinand’s death, the estate passed to his younger sister, Alice, a passionate gardener who employed 100 staff to tend the beds, lawns and greenhouses. Among her creations was this giant bird, one of the earliest examples of 3D carpet bedding. The estate then went to a great-nephew, James, who bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1957. It's now managed by a Rothschild family charitable trust.
As well as exploring the gardens with their sculptures, restored Victorian aviary and rose garden, I took a tour down a steepish path to the the watergardens and Dairy, now a venue for weddings and private dining.

The path leads on to a lily pond surrounded by grotto-like areas made of Pulham rock - Portland cement poured over rubble and shaped into artificial crags - very popular in the 1870s.
But a highlight of the day was undoubtedly Windmill Hill, the new Waddesdon archive centre a short drive away, which has a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. Here Stephen Marshall Architects have transformed the buildings of an old dairy farm into a stunning repository for documents reflecting the history of the estate and the Rothschild family. Low buildings and walls surround two grassed courtyards with a reflecting pool and sculptures, including Angus Fairhurst's bronze A Couple of Differences between Thinking and Feeling -  (below) which seemed to fascinate visitors.

With so much to see, I didn’t have time to see the interior of the manor itself. That must wait for another visit.

Tours of the water gardens and Windmill Hill are not available every day. Check with Waddesdon Manor for details:
Ph:   01296 653226