Baron Ferdinand wanted a garden to entertain his guests during his weekend house parties. To make the gardens, extensive landscaping of the hill was carried out, including leveling the top of the hill. The gardens and landscape park were laid out by the French landscape architect Elie Lainé. An attempt was made to transplant full-grown trees by chloroforming their roots, to limit the shock. While this novel idea was unsuccessful, many very large trees were successfully transplanted. Elaborate flower beds were planted, centred on the south Parterre. Several artificial rock formations were created by James Pulham, including to house mountain goats and llamas, part of Ferdinand's zoo.
After her brother's death Alice brought the care she had taken with her garden at Eythrope to Waddesdon. Alice was a keen gardener with a good understanding of flowers and plants; she would often walk around and weed the paths. With her head gardener, George Frederick Johnson who worked at Waddesdon from 1905 to 1954, Alice grew flowers for competition. Alice was responsible for introducing three-dimensional bedding in the shape of a bird, recreated in the gardens today.
Three-dimensional bedding in the shape of a bird
Under James, the gardens were less impressive. The South Parterre was grassed over in the 1930s. It was replanted with flowers for the opening of the house under the National Trust in 1959.
As part of the 1990s restoration, Beth Rothschild led a team re-introducing Ferdinand's colour scheme of trees, shrubs and bedding plants. The carpet bedding is now designed on computer allowing the schemes to be quickly installed. The patterns change each year to reflect different themes.
The gardens are listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
Though the trees are not of a great age there are many specimens of deciduous and coniferous trees that have now reached maturity creating the desired effect in the Waddesdon landscape. Some of these trees were planted in the 1870s and responsibility for this fell to William Barron whose job it was to transplant trees from the surrounding countryside to give the grounds of Waddesdon a sense of maturity, creating vistas and focal points under the instructions from Elie Lainé.
Deciduous trees were selected on their form, flowering and array of autumnal color. Conifers were selected for their evergreen nature, cones and berries. Today many species such as chestnuts, limes and maples as well as yew, cedars and redwoods can be seen.
From Baron Ferdinand's time to today, distinguished visitors have been invited to plant memorial trees. Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V and Queen Mary of Teck were early royal visitors. More recently, HRH Charles, Prince of Wales and Prime Ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair have also planted trees.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild acquired many fine statues and fountains to add interest to the gardens. A notable feature is his love of 18th-century Italian pieces. The fountains to the north and south of the house include sculptures of Pluto, Proserpina, tritons and nereids originally made by Giuliano Mozani around 1720 for the Ducal Palace of Colorno. A bust of the muse Erato has been recently attributed to Filippo Parodi.
A fine example of French early 18th-century sculpture is sited near the Aviary: Apollo by Jean Raon, 1699, associated with a commission at Versailles. There are also Dutch vases in the style of Albert Jansz Vinckenbrinck and sculptures by Jan van Logteren, the latter were originally displayed at Aston Clinton House.
In 2001, Stephen Cox's tomb-like sculpture Interior Space: Terra degli Etruschi was installed at the end of the Baron's Walk. Inscribed on a nearby marble slab are the names of the Rothschilds who built and have cared for Waddesdon.
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild also created a cast-iron aviary, inspired by 18th-century pavilions at the Palace of Versailles and Château de Chantilly, as well as his childhood home at Grüneburg. It was completed in 1889. Like other members of his family, such as Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Ferdinand was also keen animal lover. He stocked the aviary with exotic birds and enjoyed feeding them for his guests.
The aviary's paint and gilding were restored in 2003 and it now houses endangered species with a focus on breeding programs. It is a registered zoo.