Bedding down at Waddesdon Manor

PUBLISHED: 14:48 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor

Each year, thousands of bedding plants merge together to create seasonal displays in the gardens at Waddesdon Manor. Philippa Pearson goes behind the scenes with Head Gardener, Paul Farnell to find out more

MOST of us are content to fill a few hanging baskets with lobelia, geraniums and petunias for a splash of summer colour. At Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, seasonal bedding takes on a grandiose approach as sumptuous displays are planned months in advance with meticulous military detail, right down to the colour of each plant. The gardens were originally laid out over 10 years in the late 1800s by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and are considered today one of the finest Victorian gardens in Britain. Central to the design is a stunning parterre on the south side of the house where themed carpet bedding schemes in spring and summer create a mass of colour and pattern. The parterre and much of the gardens were restored in the 1990s. The term 'carpet bedding' was introduced by the Victorians as a method of creating temporary displays from seasonal plants which are planted in blocks and ribbons of colour, rather like a carpet design.
In summer at Waddesdon, the bedding displays are themed to link in with events at the house and this year they celebrate the Rothchilds' link to horseracing. In 1909, James de Rothschild's horse, Bomba, won the Ascot Gold Cup and an exhibition in the house looks at the Rothschild family's long association with horseracing. As well as the carpet bedding displays, Waddesdon is famous for its three-dimensional seasonal displays: for generations the Rothschilds have been keen gardeners and are said to have been pioneers in the introduction of these life-like displays.
Paul Farnell, who has worked in the gardens at Waddesdon for 14 years, the last four as Head Gardener, starts to plan bedding displays almost a year in advance and the summer bedding scheme is started in August of the preceding year. Working with the team in the house, a theme is decided and the design worked out on paper. Next, this is sent to a specialised nursery in Cornwall who produce a computerised plan detailing how many plants are required and what colour and type of plant. 'We use about 250,000 bedding plants for each seasonal display,' says Paul. The plants are grown by the nursery in special square trays which are planted out in mid-May. 'It's a bit like laying a carpet,' says Paul, 'and takes four gardeners most of the day to create.' Plant colours this year reflect those of the Rothschild racing silks, blue and gold, and include Petunia, Salvia, Lobelia, Marigold and Chrysanthemum. The three dimensional creations together with carpet bedding displays create a riot of colour throughout the summer months, a sight not to be missed.
Elsewhere, the landscaped parkland has shady walks, beautiful panoramas, fountains and grottos. The Rose Garden was originally created by Baron Ferdinand's sister, Miss Alice de Rothschild, who was an accomplished gardener. The Rose Garden was restored in 2000 and is planted with over 600 roses, ranging from early Gallicias to a good selection of English Roses including 'Miss Alice', a rose bred by David Austin Roses. The Aviary Garden has more colourful bedding schemes, including some three dimensional 'birds' made from plants.
Waddesdon Plant Centre, on the site of the historic glass houses, has a good selection of home grown plants.

Visit Waddesdon Manor
Waddesdon Manor, Waddesdon, Nr Aylesbury
Buckinghamshire HP18 0JH
01296 653226/01296 653211
Gardens open Wednesday to Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, April 1 to December 31, 10am-5pm; Gardens open at weekends February to end of March, check website for details. Admission to the house is by timed ticket only which can be booked in advance.

Gardening events
Rare and Unusual Plant Fair
June 6 and 7, 10am-4pm
Apples and Autumn Fruits at Waddesdon Plant Centre
October 17 and 18, 10am-4pm

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