The south facing grounds of 30 acres associated with Highbury were mainly landscaped by Edward Milner in 1879. He was an Edwardian garden designer of national repute, and he designed a circuit path that ran around the periphery of the estate leading from the drive to points of interest, including a pond and a lake and returning to the pleasure grounds near the mansion.
Immediately in front of the house there was a semi-circular parterre leading from a terrace from which there were distant views over the Worcestershire countryside.
The circuit path enclosed an area of meadow land used for grazing horses and cows that were part of the hobby farm. There was also a kitchen garden and numerous glasshouses ran eastwards from the mansion and provided show houses for orchids and other exotic plants. The glasshouse were partly demolished in 1922 and finally in 1940.
The Chamberlains made many additions to the grounds several of which could be reached from the circuit path and included a Dutch garden, an Italian garden and a rock garden. Important architectural features in the grounds include two lookouts, terracotta balustrades and a pergola, remnants of a fountain and the footprints of an ornamental dairy and hobby farm. In 1921 15 acres of the grounds became a public park together with land formerly part of Uffculme.
The grounds are included at Grade II on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England and Wales.
The Highbury Rhododendron Collection
Joseph Chamberlain is invariably associated with exotic orchids of which he had a large collection at Highbury, his Birmingham home from 1880. The orchids were sold soon after his death and most of the glasshouses demolished by 1922.
However what does remain at Highbury is another plant group of equally striking flowers, that of hardy Rhododendrons which also held appeal for him. The Gardeners’ Magazine of April 18 1903 commented ‘Rhododendrons are extensively planted, the common forms in shrubberies and by the lakeside and the finest named forms filling large irregular beds. Many of these beds are grouped on and around a sharp dip on the eastward side of the grounds, the grassy slope leading down to a small pond planted with aquatics.’ Read more about the Rhododendron Collection.
The Highbury Fruit Tree Pergola
The fruit tree pergola is the last remaining original structure in what was formerly Highbury’s kitchen garden.
The pergola probably dates from the earliest laying out of the kitchen garden from 1879 onwards. It is made of wrought iron and extends for 25m. It is planted with pears and apples in beds edged with the original blue brick copings. An original pebble path runs up the centre of the pergola.
The structure itself is in a visible state of disrepair and action is needed to ensure that it remains part of the Highbury estate for years to come.
The Chamberlain Highbury Trust commissioned a conservation survey in 2018 to assess the condition of the pergola structure and is working with a local artist, horticulturalist and architect to design and prototype a replacement structure.
In April 2019, horticulturalist Dr Rob Tilling from Let’s Grow Together, involved a number of volunteers in grafting specimens taken from the existing fruit trees on the pergola onto new rootstocks and these are now being cared for in a plot within Highbury’s old kitchen garden under the watchful eye of the Four Seasons Gardening Project.