Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN
The grounds at Tatton Park are enormous and the whole experience is a joint venture between the estate run by Cheshire East Council and the National Trust. You have to pay a car parking fee to the estate whether you want to see the National Trust Gardens or not. Be prepared to see herds of red and fallow deer as you drive along the entrance roads. I say experience because there is a children’s farm, some lakes, various woodland areas and many events taking place. On the day I visited there was a fun fair next to the car park which could keep some folks happy without everventuring in further.
From the car park you go along a little woodland walk until you come to the courtyard which is large even by stately home sizes. Here you will find the ubiquitous cafes and shops (I can recommend the Gardner’s Cottage tea rooms hidden away in the corner). There is one entrance to the gardens in the centre of the courtyard which helpfully has a large sign over it. The estate was the property of the Egerton family for 400 years until it was given to the National Trust in 1958.
You enter through a little covered way to buy your garden ticket or show your Trust pass. In all the gardens stretch to 15 acres so be prepared to spend some time. They are quite accessible although there is a lot of grass which can become wet so the less able should stick to the paths. As a topiary enthusiast you will see the sign pointing to the Italian Garden and aim for it like a bee. This parterre is laid out on several levels at the back of the main house. It has cypress fir specimens as statements and a formal box shape delineating the patterns. What makes it Victorian is the use of flower planting both inside the parterre and outside. The victorians loved their bedding plants and their are low flower borders with grass edges outside the box and the whole is filled with a white gravel with miniature lawns in between. To access the parterre you need to go down a few steps but actually parterres are meant to be viewed from above so you can see the pattern, so if you are not able to manage steps you are not missing anything.
Another Victorian touch are the giant urns in the centre filled with bedding plants and the grassed border on the outside also adds to the effect.
If you wander to the right (from the face of the house) forwards across the grass you will come to some trees and you will soon recognise some giant topiary specimens in yew. These have obviously been here for a century at least. Although most are abstract you can recognise a bird on the top of one wearing, what looks like, a french soldier’s cap on its head. On some others are distinct wedding cake layers. The two sides of yew hedging cum topiary have been joined together across the path by a flat arch which, if you are being romantic, could be construed as the bridge of sighs in Venice. Maybe the sun was just getting too much for me on the day.
The are still many other areas of the gardens to explore but for the topiary enthusiast it’s best to head for the rose garden, a Victorian idea if ever there was one, straight through, or rather at right angles into the Tower Garden. This folly is tremendous and it is said that a hermit actually lived at one time. This anyway is a magical spot and you can see the giant yews from behind bordering the one side and some lovely box balls just to the left of the base of the tower. The contrast in scale is surprising and works very well to draw you into this nursery rhyme place.
The statue of pan in the centre of the box balls works very well to increase the magical feel of the place and although you wouldn’t find such statuary in seventeenth century topiary gardens or parterres I feel it adds to the whole and who says you always need to stick to the rules. Rules if not to be broken are definitely meant to be enhanced.
Then there’s more. There is a recreation of the maze at Hampton Court Palace if you walk further on past the rose garden. It actually takes quite a bit of finding as it is hidden in a dell. The “walls” of the maze are not in the traditional yew here but in beech and hornbeam which actually makes it blend in more with the surrounding woodland. If you know your way around Hampton Court Maze you can impress your friends by showing them the trick at Tatton but you will find the screams of delight and torment of children are still the same.
Of course you haven’t finished yet if you like all types of garden as there is a pinetum, a japanese garden and various pools to find yet but I’ll leave that for the non topiarists to explore.
All photographs by Anthony Blagg