Wander around the pleasure grounds and enjoy the fountains, statuary, aviary with rare and exotic birds, the rose garden, the magnificent parterre and the woodland walks.
The Parterre was restored in 1994 to designs by Beth Rothschild. Usually planted with over 19,000 bedding plants – the Victorian craze – but during COVID, the gardeners have ‘cut back the wallflowers and let the bulbs die back naturally’. It has a beauty of its own.
Walk along the avenue towards the North Fountain and keeping the Pulham Rockery on your left, turn west to the pleasure grounds.
Like many other Rothschilds, Ferdinand loved birds and built the Aviary in time for the visit of the Shah of Persia in 1889. Built by an English builder, its design was based on the French pavilions at Versailles and Chantilly. The Aviary houses one of the many statues at Waddesdon – here Minerva lies on a bed of tufa, attended by her tritons.
Don’t miss the Pump House which has the history of the garden, the magnificent machine for generating electricity and a video of the wine cellar at Waddesdon. Amongst other wines, Waddesdon houses 13,700 bottles of Chateau Lafite.
The house and gardens are not open every day of the week.
National Trust members visit for free.
By the end of the 19th century, the Rothschilds had emerged from relative obscurity in the Jewish quarter of Frankfurt to become one of the world’s richest families. They owned houses, vineyards, racehorses and the most amazing art collection – from 18th century English portraits to Dutch paintings, French furniture, porcelain and sculpture.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the estate from the Duke of Marlborough in 1874. He commissioned Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur to design the house to entertain his guests and to house his massive art collection. Fashioned like a French chateau on the Loire, it was built on the top of a hill where ‘there was not a bush to be seen or a bird to be heard’.
Ferdinand was a complex character. Full of energy (he completed the house and gardens at Waddesdon in five years), extremely generous to his guests and staff, he was also a solitary man. He wrote: ‘I am lonely, suffering and occasionally very miserable individual, despite the gilded and marble rooms in which I live’.
Queen Victoria visited the estate in 1890 – a visit that had, according to Ferdinand, ‘passed off so satisfactorily’.
Ferdinand regarded Waddesdon as ‘complete’ – he published his aims and influences in The Red Book, published a year before his early death in 1898. [Did Ferdinand base his ideas on the Red Books produced by Humphry Repton for prospective clients?]
Ferdinand loved gardening and he created the formal and informal gardens at Waddesdon with advice from the Parisian landscape architect Elie Laine.
The Rothschild Foundation manages Waddesdon on behalf of the National Trust.