I visited Waddesdon Manor on 27th June – the first property I had been to after lockdown was lifted. It was wonderful to be out and about and enjoy a garden after several months of restrictions.
Waddesdon Manor is just off the A41 between Bicester and Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and is about 90 minutes from Central London. The postcode is HP18 0JH and it is now owned by the National Trust.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Rothschilds had emerged from relative obscurity in the Jewish quarter in Frankfurt to become one of the world’s richest families. They owned houses, vineyards, racehorses and the most amazing art collection – from eighteenth century English portraits to Dutch paintings, French furniture and porcelain.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the estate from the Duke of Marlborough in 1874 and spent several years building the house.
Designed by Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, Waddesdon Manor was for Ferdinand to entertain his family and friends and showcase his Art Collection. Built in the style of a French chateau on the Loire, Ferdinand regarded Waddesdon as ‘complete’ – he published his aims and influences in The Red Book, published a year before his early death in 1898. [Did Ferdinand base his ideas on the Red Books produced by Humphry Repton for prospective clients? More research needed….]
Ferdinand loved gardening and he created the formal and informal gardens with advice from the Parisian landscape architect Elie Laine.
Walking from the car along the made-up track to the Manor, I walked across the meadow in front of the house to the steps below the Parterre. The house looms above you like a monster emerging from the depths, watching your every move.
The Parterre was restored in 1994 to designs by Beth Rothschild. Usually planted with over 19,000 bedding plants – the Victorian craze – but this year, the gardeners have ‘cut back the wallflowers and let the bulbs die back naturally’. It has a beauty of its own.
Enjoy the architecture of the house with its turrets and elaborate detail before heading off to explore the gardens.
Walk along the avenue towards the North Fountain and keeping the Pulham Rockery on your left, turn west to the pleasure grounds. Just as I approached the modern sculpture of a red carriage and horses, the heavens opened and I took refuge in a small wooden hut hidden in the shrubberies. It was a perfect place to sit and think.
After about thirty minutes, the rain stopped and I found my way across the grass to the Aviary.
Like many other Rothschilds, Ferdinand loved birds and built the Aviary in time for the visit of the Shah of Persia in 1889. Built by an English builder, its design was based on the French pavilions at Versailles and Chantilly. The Aviary houses one of the many statues at Waddesdon – here Minerva lies on a bed of tufa, attended by her tritons.
The Waddesdon estate runs a conservation project breeding many obscure and endangered species – but I struggle seeing so many birds unable to fly more than a few meters.
From the Aviary, walk left to the Rose Garden
which was smelling spectacular on my visit
and back to the Manor via the Tay Bridge and the Wildflower Valley.
The estate is planted with a significant number of exotic and native trees – there’s an interactive online trail for visitors to enjoy – as well as numerous sculptures.
Make sure you pop in to the Pump House which has the history of the garden, the magnificent machine for generating electricity and a video of the wine cellar at Waddesdon – with 13,700 bottles of Lafite alone.
I walked back along Miss Alice’s Drive with its woodland homes and sculpture.
Waddesdon is a garden for walking and chatting with friends. The elaborate Parterre can be enjoyed from the house while the rest of the garden is spread out through the Park. It doesn’t feel disconnected as the different parts are joined together by the Park and Woodland.