Trentham’s Capabilities (3)

Yesterday I was lucky to combine my visit to Staffordshire with a private garden tour at Trentham. An event organised to raise funds for the NGS; what better way to bring such a large public garden into the Scheme?

Every garden tells a story and head gardener Carol was brilliant in giving us Garden History, Horticulture and masses of Enthusiasm. Not knowing anything about Trentham, I was grateful for the brief history of the site, the rise of the family and the knowledge of their departure following the pollution of the River Trent.

We began by the lake, dazzling in the sun and being enjoyed by rowers and wildfowl. Charles Bridgeman’s plan shows it straight and formal; it was then enlarged in area by Capability Brown who insisted the lake be dug to a depth of only 4′  – enough for a man to stand in. An accident had occurred on one of his earlier sites  where the lake was much deeper and he did not want a repetition at Trentham. Across the water on a headland,  we could imagine the lone piper in the early morning standing under the Cedar of Lebanon, playing his bagpipes for the Duke of Sutherland.

We walked through the ‘rivers of grasses and perennials’ designed by Piet Oudolf, an area best in late summer and autumn but still providing texture and height. dscf7437

The right plant in the right place makes economic sense in a garden of this size. Carol points out tiny cyclamen coum peeping out from under the yew tree busy defying the drought conditions. She no longer plants snowdrops as they are eaten constantly by battalions of mice. I do however catch sight of one large galanthus:


We pass by the sad remains of the decaying orangery with its overgrown wisteria. Fenced off and out of bounds, it is a reminder of an age of grandness now lost for ever. Carol hints of a restoration plan and we can but hope.


We arrive at the platform built on the site of the long gone house.

DSCF7466.jpgHere laid out on a vast wide terrace below and in front of the lake, is Charles Barry’s Italianate Garden. The blighted box is slowly being replanted with euonymous and the borders which were once filled by the Victorians with bright annuals, now have been given a contemporary lift with perennials, the hand of Tom Stuart-Smith.


Brown spent twenty years at Trentham and it is quite proper that a bronze statue should celebrate his tercentenary, and standing in what was previously his landscape and now Barry’s formal garden, what would Mr. Brown think? Weighing in at 6 tons it would be quite a job to re-position him.


Moving away into the wider landscape, I can’t help but notice the constant traffic noise from the M6 in the far distance. However we are kept amused by the huge metallic dandelion heads rising above us and Carol keeps us enthralled with tales of the Georgian boat house and also of the icehouse now in ruins.


Much has been cleared of the wretched rhododendron ponticum and in place are great plans, drawn up by Nigel Dunnet and already begun, of a variety of understory planting in a sizeable area of woodland.

Trentham is indeed a landscape of great ‘capabilities’ and it has a history of taking only the best advice. There is an energy to it which engages diversity, regeneration and sustainability, all aimed at the garden tourist.

After 2 1/2 hours, we are a little chilled, to say the least,  but so much the wiser.  Dusk is falling and the swans are snucking up for the night. Rarely have I had so much pleasure out of £5.50.



2 thoughts on “Trentham’s Capabilities (3)

  1. Thank you Julia, looking forward to sharing this journey via the blog – it will provide I can see countless wonderful ideas and images.


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