A walk in the gardens

waddeson 007Several years ago, as it was a beautiful day, I decided it was time for a visit to the big house in the village to wander around the gardens for a while. As we are all now stuck indoors, I thought I would share the visit again. The grounds of Waddesdon Manor cover some two hundred acres, and the house itself may seem a little familiar, having featured in many films and TV programmes, including Downton Abbey, The Mummy; Return of the Dragon Emperor and The Tenth Kingdom.

waddeson 023The village is one of the less chocolate boxy villages in the area, being strikingly lacking in the thatch and picket fences department. We do, however, have a magnificent Lodge at the crossroads, and the set of gilded gates in the centre of the village see the best part of half a million visitors a year wander through them in search of a fairytale chateau… a little bit of France in middle England, or so it seems.

waddeson 019I walked from the car park rather than take the little bus, passing through stands of huge trees that were a marvel when they were planted, being brought in as mature trees, rather than saplings to complete the landscaping by Elie Lainé. Queen Victoria was invited to view them, but found the newly installed electric lighting a far more fascinating subject. Apparently her Majesty couldn’t stop switching the lights on and off. Still, my attention was on the gardens, and that lovely mixture of wild and tended that characterises the place.

waddeson 123The first glimpse as you come through the trees is along the path that divides the house from the parterre, where the cool green shade gives way to the golden glow of ornately carved stone. You really could be forgiven for thinking yourself in France, as so many of the details here were inspired by the chateaux of Maintenon and Chambord. Graceful turrets and towers punctuate the skyline and even England’s eternal banks of chimneypots have acquired the gloss of elegance.

waddeson 015From the Proserpina fountain, brought from the Palace of Colorno in Italy, to the statues that grace the glades, you can see the famous Gout Rothschild spilling out of the house and down the hillside. The Manor was built in the late 1800’s to house the art collection, and I know the treasures it houses… from Sevres to Boucher and Gainsborough… and the wonderfully theatrical Sleeping Beauty paintings of Leon Bakst, that set me thinking last year and which are housed, appropriately, in the tower with its trellis of ivy.

waddeson 029New works of art are still added to the collection, yet the Manor no longer belongs to the family that built it; it was given to the National Trust in 1957. It has provided employment in the village for a long time now and the villagers’ Christmas gift is a pass to the grounds for the year.

waddeson 058It has seen many things, this place. A Roman road ran through here once upon a time and there was a settlement here… the traces of their vineyards remain beneath the village school by the Manor gates. Long before that, Iron Age huts dotted this landscape… and further still Neolithic man hunted here, leaving his axes in what are now the ploughed fields of the Home Farm. In WWII small children from London were evacuated to the safety of the Manor and today children laugh in the woodland playgrounds.

waddeson 042Even though the Manor is fairly new in the flow of history, you can see so much reflected in the interpretations of the lovely chateaux, classical motifs and sheer artistry of the building that time seems a meaningless thing here. Greek Gods grace the woods and lawns, side by side with ultramodern works of art and technology.

waddeson 060Every year new installations are invited and new works add a different dimension to the gardens, while the Aviary… a wrought iron filigree that houses rare birds as part of a serious conservation and breeding programme… provides another glimpse into a forgotten world.

waddeson 056The resident gardeners bring a sense of fun with their own flower sculptures… precision planting at its best, with not a weed to be seen… yet two great birds draw only smiles from the children, while the design of the ancient Roman mosaic on display in the house is echoed in the long flower bed behind the fountain.

waddeson 037There is art of all kinds here, yet for me it is not the precise beds that draw me, but the winding paths through the trees; not the manicured lawns with their neatly mown stripes, but the hillside where long grasses tumble in waves, carrying a foam of wildflowers. The marble children of the sculptures do not laugh like the ones who run through the glades and the frozen forms of carved animals do not have the same warmth or joy as the wary squirrel, poised for flight that watches from the tree.

waddeson 145It is true that the formal borders and soaring pinnacles are beautiful. There is something in that symmetry that cannot help but impress. But the ordered perfection of artifice is just that… artificial; a display of status and control… even over nature. The stones are carved into foliate forms, the ivy caged in geometry, yet around this little oasis of aesthetic perfection nature blooms. The landscaped park gives way to native trees and fields, then onwards to the rolling hills and the wild places.

waddeson 038In this place it seems that all ages are brought together, by every type of art, and laid out before us in a single tapestry of flowering creativity. Here too the natural world blends gently with artifice, the edges blurring together and illuminating each other by their very differences.

waddeson 138It is said that a garden is the quest for paradise… that we bring in close those things that speak to us of beauty and try to attain an ideal of perfection, though perhaps there is a deeper yearning still, as we set our gardens under the blue of the sky, reflecting it in our pools, emulating the rain with our fountains. Perhaps there is, deep down, a knowledge that we already have perfection all around us, even though we may not see it or touch it through the veils of our human focus on our own place in the world in which we live.

waddeson 140Maybe all our efforts to create beauty are only an attempt to capture it and pin it down in a small enough measure that we can begin to understand it and reach through its form to its soul. Maybe what we seek to create is a mirror of something we sense but dimly; a beauty that is real… and which has always been our own.

waddeson 100

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
This entry was posted in England, Film, Photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to A walk in the gardens

  1. Beautiful place!


  2. Thanks for sharing your adventure, Sue. It really does look lovely.


  3. Thank you for the visit, We had almost convinced ourselves to go find a river and take a picture, but we didn’t do it. Too dangerous right now. Maybe later. So thank you for a reminder of another part of the world!


  4. Sadje says:

    Thanks for the tour of such an amazing place.


  5. Eliza Waters says:

    Wow, that iridescent bird is fabulous! It’s nice you have this beautiful manor right in your village. I wonder how all these estates and museums are faring without daily visitor revenue. If they were struggling before Covid, I cannot imagine how they will make do now.


  6. Mary Smith says:

    What a fabulous place, Sue and what a glorious day you had to wander round the grounds.


  7. Love these so much. The park, the Manor, and one can see its all in best shape. Thank you for sharing, Sue!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.