Emma Townshend: British Gardens in Time - oh, BBC, what do you think you're doing?

The mother of all arguments is about to divide gardeners up and down the nation

I don't know whether the BBC was specifically trying to start a squabble, but last week it defo did so. Forget the very mild controversy over Benefit Street or that tiny bit of gossip you may have heard about Strictly's Susannah leaving her husband: this is the big one. Yep, if you want to get the nation really ranting, you know what you need to do? Kick off a row about the best gardens in Britain.

In particular, you need to commission a big series called British Gardens in Time, with nice presenters such as designer Chris Beardshaw and acclaimed garden historian Andrea Wulf; and then include only FOUR gardens. All of which are ENGLISH. And none of which is further north than junction 17 of the M6. (That's Crewe, for crying out loud.)

The series begins on BBC4 on Tuesday with Stowe, an elegant, huge and leg-knackering landscape very handily located for Silverstone race track. Stowe is also, once you start to look into the history, a singularly argumentative garden. Despite all the apparent Arcadian ease, Lord Cobham, the 18th-century landowner, created most of it during a period of political exile after falling out with Whig prime minister Robert Walpole.

Far from trying to distract himself from his worklife woes, Cobham went all out to make a garden that had a massive go at Walpole, with a "Temple of British Worthies" to hammer home the point about good and bad government. Seldom has a rolling landscape had so much bitter political venom put into it. And the result is superb.

If you like this kind of thing, you must get the series' accompanying book, written by distinguished garden historian Katie Campbell. Campbell treads a nice line between juicy facts and the aesthetic qualities of the gardens. I adore her description of Jane Austen-ish tourists turning up in carriages, buying guidebooks and filling up the local inns, while commendably tipping the head gardener.

The Beeb's most intriguing inclusion is Biddulph Grange, a Victorian garden near Stoke-on-Trent that sort of has to be seen to be believed. The garden's maker was James Bateman, son of a businessman father who'd been "unscrupulous but extremely successful", according to Campbell. Shadily accumulated cash funded an orchid habit that began before James had even finished university; and later, a properly crazy garden with a tomb-like Egyptian garden, scarlet Chinese bridge, and stupendously likeable, er, thing built entirely out of tree stumps (apparently they were all the rage in Victorian times).

The series winds up with two great English gardens. Nymans is in West Sussex, and I've never really fallen in love with it, though I understand it is technically possible to do so. Campbell calls it "the most exquisite Edwardian retreat of all", though here, my argumentative side starts to rear its head. Why not include Arts and Crafts Standen or tumbling-bordered Gravetye instead? (And that's just in Sussex.) If we are being completely obvious, where are Britain's most famous gardens internationally: Hidcote, Sissinghurst?

And if we're being more devolved in our thinking, where are the Edwardian gardens of Yorkshire, Derybshire or the Lake District? Bodnant, the Edwardian jewel of North Wales; Mount Stuart, on the Isle of Bute, just 90 minutes from Glasgow? I felt annoyed for all of these head gardeners, once more ignored.

But in the end, the series finishes exactly where I'd have picked myself: Great Dixter, for my money (£8.80 admission, if you were wondering) is the best garden on our island. Christopher Lloyd, its maker, and his admirable successor Fergus Garrett offer a changing spectacle of flowery loveliness in an underpinning structure of perfectly balanced weight. And for once, I'm brooking no argument.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicReview: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses papparrazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian
film
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sportWinger arrives from Real Madrid and could make debut on Saturday
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Hooked on classical: cellist Rachael Lander began drinking to combat panic attacks
musicThe cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow...
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Organisational Change/ Transition Project Manager

£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

Accountacy Tutor

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Randstad Education is looking...

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis