Saturday, 4 June 2011

Trentham Gardens

Now that most of the sowing and planting is done I've time to slope off and visit some gardens. So today I headed off up the A50 to Trentham Gardens near Stoke, which are described by Alan Titchmarsh as one of the UK's must-see gardens. Blimey. They've had some serious money spent on them in recent years so I had high hopes.

The Trentham estate has an interesting history - it was once the country pile of the Duke of Sutherland, who had the house demolished in 1911, one reason being the smell of industrial pollution from the nearby River Trent, which I for one find hilarious. The Gardens were also the site of the infamous Trentham Ballroom (1931-2002) which hosted all the best bands from The Beatles to Pink Floyd. The parkland and lake were laid out by Capability Brown and the original Italianate gardens by Sir Charles Barry in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is now owned by St Modwen Properties PLC and Willi Reitz, the German entrepreneur, and operated as a "leisure destination". I went anyway.

The entrance to the gardens is through the horrendous "shopping village" which doesn't exactly put you in the right frame of mind for what is to come.

The first garden is the Piet Oudolf-designed Rivers of Grass, which is how it sounds. I wasn't impressed at first but when I went back later I started to get my head round it. It probably looks better in autumn. This leads on to the Floral Labyrinth, which apparently looks better in July and August, which might explain why they haven't bothered getting on top of the weeding yet.

The 19th century Italian Gardens were given a complete makeover in 2004 by designer Tom Stuart-Smith "with one of the largest contemporary perennial plantings in Europe". Phew. Some lovely planting combinations I must admit and the area I spent the most time in. What's more I'd timed it right to see the collection of bearded irises.

At the bottom of the gardens by the lake there's a statue of Perseus and Medusa - God knows what that's all about, maybe put there to scare the kiddies, and unmistakably a fine example of the mindset of the 19th century aristocracy.

I suppose the only problem with big public gardens like these is that they don't seem to have any soul. "We've spent all the money on the designers chaps, now here's the maintenance schedule - get on with it." Undoubtedly beautiful in parts, but where's the love? Where's the passion? It's just in the way of things I suppose.

The little show gardens - "for garden inspiration on a domestic scale" - were quite interesting, something for everyone, nice for the kiddies too - just as well after that statue.

I had a wander round the woods and the lake too so I can't say I didn't get my moneys worth.

And the National Trust could learn a thing or two from these corporate boys - tear down those ugly country houses - those symbols of privilege, oppression and exploitation - and spend the money on the gardens. It might upset the American tourists but it would please me no end.

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