Staffordshire is synonymous with the Potteries and the Black Country, the industrial heartland of the Midlands, yet it is also a county of gently rolling landscape with some of the most eccentric gardens in the country. Nothing is quite what it seems. Alton Towers, famous for its blood-curdling theme-park rides, has an historic garden with orangeries, temples and a Chinese pagoda while Trentham, best known of the county’s heritage sites with a rich garden history has a breathtaking modern garden of swaying grasses by Piet Oudolf. There are numinous remains of Elizabethan water gardens at Gayton and Gerards Bromley and, in Izaak Walton’s county, fishing pavilions masquerading as a Doric temple at Calwich Abbey and a Gothick chapel at Blithbury Priory. The Georgian is the county’s richest period when Shugborough was given Chinese, Greek and Gothick garden buildings and Enville, a beautiful Gothick orangery like a Staffordshire ornament. One admiral owner at Batchacre directed mock battles on his lake with naval frigates and military forts. Most bizarrely, The Wodehouse at Wombourne had a grotto, a temple to Handel and a hermitage complete with a mechanical Father Francis to delight visitors. All these eclectic layouts are a welcome relief to the vapid parks of Capability Brown and the suburban pleasure grounds of Humphry Repton which supplanted them. The Egyptian and Chinese gardens at the National Trust’s Biddulph Grange are the county’s most important nineteenth-century offerings and continue the exotic theme, while in the twentieth century Art Deco potter Clarice Cliff's garden at Stoke reverted to Reptonian suburbia with garish, flower-packed borders.

Redcliffe Press, Bristol (September 2009)

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