No-one should ever promise a child something they can’t deliver, so when Mrs P and I told our two little nieces we were going to take them to China for the afternoon via a secret garden we knew we could do it.
The first step in the adventure was to get to the where Cheshire ends and Staffordshire begins: Biddulph Grange Garden.
The National Trust, bless it, saved this rich man’s fantasy for the poorer man’s delight. Victorian millionaire James Bateman created the garden to expound the theories of his contemporary Charles Darwin, but as well as the science, which the Trust still promotes in the spirit of play which the best enquiring minds never lose, the Garden is also an adventure.
Bateman took plants from all over the world, and recreated the world in his back garden to display it: from an Italian terrace to an Egyptian pyramid, via a Himalayan glen and a Chinese-inspired garden.
Along the way you discover a fabulous collection of rhododendrons, a dahlia walk and the oldest surviving golden larch in Britain, brought from China by the great plant hunter Robert Fortune.
But the best way to explore a garden like this is via the mind of a child: just sow the seed of excitement, and watch it grow.
Biddulph is a series of gardens within gardens, looping round each other and doubling back to get you where you were without retracing your steps – just like going round the world itself, with discovery after discovery on the way.
“I’ve found a secret path!” said seven-year-old Abi.
Giant stepping stones skirted the edge of a lake, itself filled with giants – the best-fed Koi carp in Staffordshire - and led us to stairs cut in stone, with trailing rhododendron and huge grasses threatening to hide the way. Abi and five-year-old Liv led the way up into what looked like a cave, but became an Indiana Jones tunnel, twisting from left to right, passing stern iron gates, menacingly ajar. Had they held wild animals which were even now tracking us in the passageway? Or would they slam shut, and make us prisoners?
One last turn and we were in the light.
And in China.
The dark of the tunnel ended on the sun-lit terrace of a Chinese temple, its balcony overlooking the calm of a fish pond with an ornamental bridge, all enclosed in a model Great Wall of China.
Shrieks of delight - the war cry of a kid on a mission – preceded the discovery of dragons embedded in flower beds, the statue of a golden cow and miniature watchtowers.
After more twists and turns, the tiny explorers found another tower, whose winding steps led to a long tunnel with strange writing on the wall. Back in the light, a glance over our shoulders revealed Egypt: stone sphinxes guarding a pharaoh’s tomb which we had just left, topped with a pyramid. A privet hedge clipped like a pyramid, but a pyramid nonetheless.
Back in the tower and up a different set of steps and our party leaves by another door – in a fairy-tale Tudor cottage. Where did that come from? Where did we come from?
“Shush – I’m concentrating!” said the six-year-old, bent over a map of the Garden as we wonder over the mystery of it all.
It was an afternoon of magic: giants are supplied by trees, dwarves are replaced by tiny insects and fairies abound disguised as delicate flowers as Biddulph shows itself as the lord of the ring of gardens.
Children don’t really believe in magic; they don’t have to because they can make magic happen whenever they want to. But you can help them cast their spell by taking them somewhere like Biddulph Grange Garden.
And before you go, check out what special events are being planned – The National Trust often adds to the excitement with superb and fun activities.Contact: 01782 517999 Fax: 01782 510624 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org