This way to Wonderland: Discover the National Trust treasure that sets the scene for Tim Burton's 'Alice'
When Tim Burton began the search for a location for his new and utterly weird Alice to fall down the rabbit hole, he knew exactly what he wanted: an English idyll, where magic could begin to happen. Which is how he came to pick Antony House, one of the National Trust's Cornish jewels, set on its own little peninsula sticking out into the blue sea.
"Tim didn't want something quirky," explains head gardener Val Anderson, who has been in charge at Antony for 35 years. "He wanted something perfect and elegant, a real English country garden." Anderson and her team immediately set to work, having great fun as they stepped up to the challenge of providing acres of roses in mid-September (you make them out of paper then tie them to the bushes, apparently. "It took four people, ooh, several days," says Anderson, modestly).
Antony's gorgeous stone house and English gardens have already appeared on screen in a Rosamund Pilcher adaptation, but the Burton commission was on a rather different scale. If you've already seen the terrifying Disney trailers, you'll know that Burton's is a dark Wonderland, ruled by Helena Bonham Carter's queen.
Antony provides a blissful beginning to the movie, but the house and grounds, so used to being an undiscovered secret, a little way off the normal tourist track despite their west-country location near Plymouth, could soon see their own peace interrupted (though not sadly so): visitors numbers are anticipated to treble this year, according to head office.
The National Trust is arranging Mad Hatter tea parties in the grounds, and on opening day, 6 March, any child is entitled to free admission if their name is Alice (or arrives dressed up as a Wonderland character). Mushrooms and butterflies will dot the gardens, and there'll even be a croquet lawn, "though not with flamingos", Anderson hastens to add.
But did you ever get to see Johnny Depp, I find myself compelled to ask. "We didn't have Johnny Depp," says Anderson, with a little laugh, "but we did have lots and lots of people looking for Johnny Depp. In the end, I was quite glad he wasn't there, as we'd have been swamped!"
So how did this head gardener feel about seeing her perfect garden changing into Burton's vision of an English idyll? "It was amazing. He's so hard-working, he just gets round everywhere, and I was so impressed with the level of attention to detail." And now she is looking forward to the summer events: "I hope we attract a slightly different group of visitors, who might not have come here before. But the garden will still have all the magic and enchantment that our regulars love."
The gardens open from 6 March, 11am-5pm daily except Friday (nationaltrust.org.uk)
Antony holds a national collection of 'Camellia japonica' which should be in full flower by early March, followed by a wonderful display of magnolias, while a landscape designed by Humphry Repton has wonderful sea views. Later on, the garden is full of penstemons and salvias. And the rose garden will be in full flower by June. There are 610 varieties of day lily to admire in high summer, too.
For children and fans of the film, an exhibition will take you behind the scenes of the making of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. If you visit when the house is open, you will be able to see Alice's bedroom. Look out for a giant Cheshire cat as you walk around the gardens, or book ahead for a Mad Hatter's tea party.
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