“There’s a surprise around each corner”
Garden Manager Paul Walton shares his insights into Biddulph
Paul has been at Biddulph for 26 years, working his way up from Assistant Gardener to Garden Manager, a role he’s held for seven years. He manages a gardening team of four permanent gardeners and 40 hands-on garden volunteers.
How did you come to be at Biddulph? I left school and wasn’t sure what to do. I’d been mowing lawns for a bit of pocket money and my sister worked in the café at Biddulph so I went along to see the Head Gardener. I was offered a two-year apprenticeship and have been here ever since.
What challenges do you face in the gardens at Biddulph? The layout of the garden and over 400 steps means there are certain areas where you can’t use machinery. For instance, if a tree came down in the Chinese garden, every piece would have to be split into manageable sections so they could be carried out, which could take a whole week.
Which part of the restoration are you most proud of? It’s difficult to say – each part has given me a real sense of satisfaction. But I think it would probably be the stumpery. It’s a hidden valley of upturned oak stumps, but when I started here it was only a few stumps. We spent three months reinstating part of the stumpery and visitors were fascinated. It’s a continuing restoration project as we keep adding more – we have plans to do more this winter. Some stumps have come from local farmers and there’s a country estate in Wales that had quite a lot of oak trees felled a couple of years ago. They save the stumps for us, clean them up and sell them to us, as and when we need them.
Are there more plans in the pipeline? We’re looking at a really big drainage project. As the winters seem to be getting wetter, some of the plants are struggling and a lot of the drains in the garden are very old. It might not be a visible part of the garden, but the bits you can’t see are sometimes just as important. New drains are vital for the survival of the plants here at Biddulph.
There’s a lot of hedging at Biddulph; how long does it take to keep it in shape? There are nearly two miles of hedges and it takes three gardeners about 10 weeks to trim it all. We normally start at the end of July, trying to get the hedges of the Dahlia Walk done first, so when the dahlias are at their peak in September the hedges that surround them look crisp and sharp.
What makes Biddulph such a special place in your eyes? The garden team has been working together for quite some time now and they’re like family. The garden is also unique. The compartments it’s divided into make it different from other gardens of the period, and it means there’s a surprise around every corner, hidden from view. You can have a garden map but you’re best not using it and getting a bit lost instead, which is a good way to discover new areas. It’s that element of surprise I love so much.