The famous Stourhead landscape garden is one of Britain’s greatest and most cherished Georgian gardens.
Stourhead gardens were designed by the estate’s owner Henry Hoare II, and laid out between 1741 and 1780 in a classical, 18th-century design. The gardens are noted their fine specimen trees and shrubs as well as for the striking garden follies and grotto. The Stourhead landscape garden encircles a lovely, man-made lake built by damming a small creek at the foot of the rolling hills near Mere, Wiltshire in England. Hoare is said to have been inspired by the works of painters Claude Lorrain, Poussin, and Gaspard Dughet, known for their Utopian-style paintings of Italian landscapes.
Movie buffs will recognize Stourhead’s Apollo Temple and Palladian Bridge as settings used in the 2005 film production of Pride and Prejudice. It was there at the Apollo Temple, overlooking the lake beyond and under the protective shelter of the dome on a grey, rainy day, that Jane Austin’s Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) failed in his proposal to Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightly).
We visited on that same type of day, strolling along the lakeside pathways in a light, misty rain that in no way diminished the beauty of the scenes before us.
The mansion was our first stop on our arrival, and we toured the family rooms where in the 18th century members of the Hoare family came together in the salon or in their library or other gathering spaces and entertained themselves in the manner of the times. While in the home, we learned of the tragic death of the young Henry Hoare during World War I, leaving his family to grieve and leaving the ancestral home without its direct heir.
The design of the Stourhead garden underwent improvements and changes over the years with later family members, but it is largely intact as it was originally laid out. The large estate at the source of the River Stour comprises 1,072 hectare (2,650 acres) of landscape garden, kitchen and perennial border gardens, and groves of flowering shrubs, along with beautiful woodlands, marsh areas, and farmland. Since 1946, the property has been part-owned by the British National Trust.
Enjoying our quiet stroll around the lake, appreciating the woods and marsh areas, and taking in the gorgeous views, we stopped at the various Stourhead garden follies – the Temples of Hercules, Apollo, and Flora (Ceres) – and looked out across the tree tops to Alfred’s Tower. Other Stourhead features are a gothic-style cottage and a Grecian lodge as well as Stourhead’s famous Grotto, with Grecian statues set into the walls of the caves. Streams of water cascade and trickle in and around the statues, further delighting and charming visitors to Stourhead.
Sightlines around Stourhead Lake are beautifully and imaginatively situated, creating a focused view to see only one folly or landscape aspect at a time. Other views of the follies remain hidden. Travelling around the lake, we experienced a sense of surprise and discovery with each new scenic view along the lake’s well-travelled pathways.
Stourhead was one of the top selections on my list of world-famous gardens to see in Britain. My husband and I deeply appreciated the artistry of layout and delighted in seeing the tree collections within this beautiful garden. Stourhead’s design represents the prevailing landscape design practices within Georgian and Regency periods. By preserving the garden landscape features and family mansion, members of the public are able to experience the tranquility of the grounds within this remarkable estate. The National Trust has done outstanding work in protecting and sharing this gorgeous landscape and family home for the enjoyment of generations to come.
For further information, visit the National Trust website on Stourhead.
A YouTube clip titled Stourhead in the Rain offers a video view of Stourhead’s Apollo Temple.
Photographs and text: copyright Nadine Kampen / cookiebuxton
Photograph location: Stourhead Garden, Wiltshire, England (June 2016)
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