Tag Archive: plant hunters


The third object in this series is of historic importance. The Wardian Case, originally designed by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1829.

A modern reproduction of a Wardian Case at Tregothnan Gardens, Cornwall. Picture by Rosie Reeve

A modern reproduction of a Wardian Case at Tregothnan Gardens, Cornwall

It became a vital tool for those intrepid plant hunters of the 19th century. Without it, many of the exotic plants that now thrive in the U.K. would not have survived even half their journey from the far corners of the world.

Early plant hunters had been actively searching the world for new exotic plants from the end of the 16th century. But transporting their discoveries as seeds and dry roots because of the dehydrating sea air and a substantial lack of fresh water caused many plants to perish. The Wardian Case provided protection from the salty wind, created a mini greenhouse where the plants could use sunlight and produce their own water through condensation.

And the Case is not only of historic importance in explaining the wide range of plants now available in the U.K. It also symbolises the ways in which gardeners try to create micro climates to nurture an exotic plant or even a range of plants. They do this by growing them under glass (and a few years after Ward’s invention an explosion in greenhouse manufacture began), sheltering them from the excesses of sun, wind and rain or creating plant colonies which support each other, possibly altering the soil too.

 Old School Gardener

 

WP_20150505_15_12_46_ProOur second visit whilst travelling to the Lake District last week, was to Biddulph Grange, in Staffordshire.

Restored over the last 30 years by the National Trust, this is a delightful series of gardens designed to house James Bateman’s (the original owner) extensive plant collection from around the world. This is achieved in a series of gardens within a strong overall design structure, featuring some amusing and beautiful touches typical of the Victorian age.

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The gardens are a delight and I was fortunate to see the highlight (‘China’) last; a fitting climax as you wander round this fascinating window on one man’s passion for plants, superbly restored by the Trust. Wikipedia describes the devopment of the gardens:

Biddulph Grange was developed by James Bateman (1811–1897), the accomplished horticulturist and landowner; he inherited money from his father, who had become rich from coal and steel businesses. He moved to Biddulph Grange around 1840, from nearby Knypersley Hall. He created the gardens with the aid of his friend and painter of seascapes Edward William Cooke. The gardens were meant to display specimens from Bateman’s extensive and wide-ranging collection of plants….

Bateman was president of the North Staffordshire Field Society, and served on the Royal Horticultural Society‘s Plant Exploration Committee…. He especially loved Rhododendrons and Azaleas. Bateman was “a collector and scholar on orchids,” …

His gardens are a rare survival of the interim period between the Capability Brown landscape garden and the High Victorian style. The gardens are compartmentalised and divided into themes: Egypt, China, etc.

In 1861 Bateman and his sons, who had used up their savings, gave up the house and gardens, and Bateman moved to Kensington in London. Robert Heath bought Biddulph Grange in 1871. After the house burnt down in 1896, architect Thomas Bower rebuilt it.

The post-1896 house served as a children’s hospital from 1923 until the 1960s; known first as the “North Staffordshire Cripples’ Hospital” and later as the “Biddulph Grange Orthopaedic Hospital” (though it took patients with non-orthopaedic conditions as well…. The 15 acre (61,000 m²) garden became badly run-down and neglected during this period, and the deeply dug-out terraced area near the house around Dahlia Walk was filled in level to make a big lawn for patients to be wheeled out on in summertime. The Bateman property was (and still is) divided: the hospital got the house and its gardens, and the uncultivated remainder of Biddulph Grange’s land became the Biddulph Grange Country Park…’

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Further information: National Trust website

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